Making water available for all
A lack of infrastructure means 1 billion people currently lack access to clean water, a key determinant of good health. Changing this will require investment in new facilities, as well as institutions to manage them.
By Katherine Sierra
Tuesday, Mar 14, 2006,Page 9
This month, water once again takes center stage at the 4th World Water Forum in Mexico City. It is an opportune moment: While much of the world’s attention has been fixed on issues of energy supply and security, hundreds of millions of people in the developing world continue to see the supply and security of fresh water as equally, if not more, important.
Surveys undertaken by the World Bank in developing countries show that when poor people are asked to name the three most important concerns they face, "good health" is always mentioned. And a key determinant of whether they will have good health or not is access to clean water.
More than a billion people around the world today do not. As a result, they are increasingly vulnerable to poor health. The World Bank estimates that by 2035, as many as 3 billion people, almost all of them in developing countries, could live under conditions of severe water stress, especially if they happen to live in Africa, the Middle East or South Asia. This will cause obvious hardship, but it will also hold back the economic growth needed for millions of people to escape poverty.
In Latin America, about 15 percent of the population — roughly 76 million people — do not have access to safe water, and 116 million people do not have access to sanitation services. The figures are worse in Africa and parts of Asia.
This is a situation that few people in rich countries face. Generally, these countries’ citizens enjoy services that provide for all water needs, from drinking to irrigation to sanitation. In addition, other water-related issues, such as the risks posed by flooding, have been reduced to manageable levels.
Rich nations have invested early and heavily in water infrastructure, institutions and management capacities. The result, beyond the health benefits for all, has been a proven record of economic growth; one only has to look at investment in hydropower to see the positive impact of water management projects on many economies.
Granted, rich countries have a certain advantage: They benefit from generally moderate climates, with regular rainfall and relatively low risks of drought and flooding. Even so, they are not immune to water-related disasters, as Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans taught us.
But the impact of such events on poor countries is much greater. Extreme rainfall variations, floods and droughts can have huge social and economic effects and result in the large-scale loss of life. The Gulf coast of Mexico and Central American countries have repeatedly experienced such tragedies, with poor communities the most vulnerable and the least able to cope.
Ethiopia and Yemen are equally stark examples. Ethiopia’s development potential is closely tied to seasonal rains, so high rainfall variation, together with a lack of infrastructure, has undermined growth and perpetuated poverty. A single drought can cut growth potential by 10 percent over an extended period. Yemen, for its part, has no perennial surface water; its citizens depend entirely on rainfall, groundwater, and flash flooding.
To move forward, developing countries need new water infrastructure and better management. Any approach must be tailored to the circumstances of each country and the needs of its people, but there is no fundamental constraint to designing water development investments that ensure that local communities and the environment gain tangible and early benefits.
In some countries, new water infrastructure may mean canals, pumping stations and levees. Other nations might need deeper reservoirs, more modern filtration plants or improved water transport schemes. These can all potentially be designed to improve and expand water supplies for power generation, irrigation, and household and industrial use, while providing security against droughts and protection from floods.
The key to successfully increasing investment in water infrastructure is an equal increase of investment in water institutions. Badly managed infrastructure will do little to improve peoples’ health or support economic growth, so water development and water management must go hand in hand. Water infrastructure can and must be developed in parallel with sound institutions, good governance, attention to the environment and an equitable sharing of costs and benefits.
A water investment policy that reduces the vulnerability of the poor and offers basic water security for all will require customized planning and an effective partnership of donor countries, developing country governments, the private sector and local communities.
Delegates to the World Water Forum will have ample opportunity to forge and/or strengthen these partnerships. If they succeed, the rewards for the world’s poor will be immense.
Katherine Sierra is vice president for infrastructure at the World Bank.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
Many kids still dying for a glass of water
The rich world must act to improve water supplies so that dirty water will no longer kill more than a million children every year
By Kevin Watkins
THE GUARDIAN , LONDON
Tuesday, Mar 14, 2006,Page 9
Nobody reading this started the day with a 3km hike to collect the family’s daily water supply from a stream. None of us will suffer the indignity of using a plastic bag for a toilet. And our children don’t die for want of a glass of clean water.
Perhaps that’s why we have such a narrow view of what constitutes a "water crisis." Dwindling reservoirs and a few ministerial exhortations to flush the toilet less often, and we’ve got a national emergency on our hands. Hold the front page, there could be a hosepipe ban in the Home Counties.
In the next 24 hours diarrhea caused by unclean water and poor sanitation will claim the lives of 4,000 children. The annual death toll from this relentless catastrophe is larger than the population of Birmingham. Dirty water poses a greater threat to human life than war or terrorism. Yet it barely registers on the radar of public debate in rich countries.
At any one time, close to half the population of the developing world is suffering from water-related diseases. These rob people of their health, destroy their livelihoods and undermine education potential. The statistics behind the crisis make for grim reading. In the midst of an increasingly prosperous global economy, 2.6 billion people still have no access to even the most rudimentary latrine.
Over 1 billion have no source of drinking water.
In Britain, the average person uses 160 liters of clean water each day. In rural Mozambique or Ethiopia, people use what women and young girls can carry back from rivers and lakes: around 5 to 10 liters a day for each person. The iconic image of a woman carrying water belies a more brutal reality. You try carrying a 20-liter bucket of water for 6km in the baking sun.
The global sanitation gap is even more overwhelming. Those who have seen The Constant Gardner will recall the Kenyan slum visited by Rachel Weisz’s character.
The slum was Kibera. With a population of 750,000 it is one of the largest informal settlements in Africa and accounts for one-quarter of people living in Nairobi. Over 90 percent lack access to a latrine, giving rise to a phenomenon that didn’t figure in the movie: the "flying toilet." Lacking any alternative, people defecate into plastic bags that are thrown into the street, with terrifying consequences for public health.
Kibera is a microcosm of what happens across the developing world. Rapid urbanization and a crumbling water and sanitation infrastructure in cities like Jakarta, Manila and Lagos have left millions of poor people in overcrowded slums facing a constant threat from water infected with human excrement.
To add insult, the poor pay more for their water than the rich. In Kibera, you pay three times more than in Manhattan or London, and 10 times more than in high-income suburbs of Nairobi. Similar patterns are repeated across the cities of the developing world. The reason: water utilities pump subsidized water to well-off customers, but seldom reach the poor. Most slum dwellers face a choice between buying water from high-cost private traders, or taking a long trip to the nearest stream.
Meeting the UN’s millennium development goal of halving the proportion of the world without access to clean water would cost US$4 billion a year for 10 years. That amount represents just a month’s spending on bottled mineral water in Europe and the US.
For less than people in rich countries now spend on a designer product that produces no tangible health gains, we would roll back one of the main causes of preventable childhood death. And for every US$1 invested, another US$3 to US$4 would be generated through savings on health spending and increased productivity. So why have rich countries been cutting aid to water and sanitation for the last five years?
Water is not just a commodity. It is a source of life, dignity and equality of opportunity. That is why human need, regardless of ability to pay, must be the guiding regulatory principle, and why governments bear ultimate responsibility for provision.
South Africa has shown the way by requiring all providers, public and private, to supply a minimum amount of water free of charge. In Senegal and Manila too, new partnerships are extending access for the poor through small surcharges on the wealthy.
Redistribution may be out of fashion, but converting public water subsidies for the rich into public investments for the poor accelerates progress and overcomes the glaring equity gaps that scar many countries.
In Britain, the water and sanitation crisis of the 19th century gave rise to powerful political coalitions that brought together municipalities, industrialists and social reformers. Civic duty, economic self-interest and morality combined to make water and sanitation a national cause.
Today, new social movements and partnerships between governments and civil society are beginning to make inroads into the crisis. But we also need global leadership in rich countries that pushes water and sanitation higher up the aid agenda.
Perhaps in Britain we should take fewer baths and be sparing in our use of hosepipes. But none of us should tolerate a world in which over 1 million children are, in a perversely literal sense, dying for a glass of water and a toilet.
Kevin Watkins is director of the UN Human Development Report Office.