SEATTLE — Water is one of the essential ingredients to human life, yet it is not guaranteed for everyone. One particular solution could help remedy the widespread and historically pervasive predicament of inadequate water availability.
By 2025, the U.N. estimates that 1.8 billion people will be living in regions plagued with “absolute water scarcity.” Two-thirds of the world’s population could be living in areas under “severe water stress conditions.” In an ever increasingly globalized world, contaminants, raw sewage, waste disposal, poor farming practices and industrial by-products are threatening the sanctity of the Earth’s water sources. Yet, the Sustainable Development goals are striving for clean and affordable water for all by 2030. How can clean rural water be achieved?
In its 2014, “Tapping the Market” publication, the World Bank explored opportunities for private-sector rural water network expansion with a strong emphasis on serving the poor. Bangladesh, Benin and Cambodia, were highlighted to explore diverse water markets along with the accompanying difficulties and successes. All countries are part of the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), a multilateral agreement between various organizations to bolster the private sector of water delivery to poorer populations.
Private companies are hesitant to expand in many cases because of the perception of a nonexistent market and difficulty balancing investment costs with revenue. In Cambodia and Bangladesh, 40 to 50 percent of companies cited investment being too costly as an obstacle to building new networks. However, the World Bank estimates the value of the private sector water market at $175 million and $512 million respectively.
In Benin, 60 percent of companies claim that a lack of demand is a very severe obstacle to creating new water pipelines. However, 90 percent of individuals with access to a piped water system in their region use and pay for those systems, which shows a clear market demand. About 500,000 people have access currently, while 6.1 million people in Benin have no access to piped water systems, and this represents an enormous possibility of expansion in rural water markets. However, a private water connection in Benin would cost 116 percent of a family’s monthly income, which presents a significant barrier to growth.
Poorer populations are less likely to have access to clean water and are further disadvantaged by their general lack of access to treatment if they do become sick. Many families cannot survive long without income, as a result of being sick, and this has a crippling effect on economic security and personal safety. Yet, with government and private sector collaboration, various solutions are on the horizon.
The recommendations included making better market research to determine appropriately sized water schemes, allowing non-traditional payment methods (paying larger sums at the end of a harvest season to average out lower sums during off-work seasons), establishing nationwide standards to ensure quality to citizens and metering water usage rather than having a flat rate. Another key component involves increasing public awareness of investment projects and the importance of clean water, as well as improving infrastructure to maintain longevity.
Better coordination between government subsidies and private sector management are also needed because governments in developing countries do not have the resources to provide 100 percent of the solution.
In a world where 80 percent of disease is attributable to unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation, a multifaceted approach to safeguarding the planet’s water is necessary. With clean rural water supply in danger of not meeting the demands of our growing population, future private-sector efforts to provide availability must be well-planned, widespread and equitable in order to ensure the health of our global community.
– Patrick Tolosky