Long Read

Little Did I Know: 5 Facts About Access to Water in Developing Countries

Access to affordable water is a human right.

There has been increasing discussions about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since it was adopted by world leaders two years ago, aiming to end all forms of poverty. From multinational corporations to small and medium-sized companies, everyone is talking about their initiatives in tackling global issues. You might wonder, what are the problems really?

Today, 650 million people worldwide live without access to clean water, such as tap water, protected wells, and rainwater collection. In the poorest 16 countries, more than 40 % of population don’t have access to basic water facilities, leaving them no choice but to collect from unprotected surface water such as ponds, lakes, streams…etc. Other than the obvious health hazards, here are additional concerns.

1. Cost of water

You would probably assume that people in developing world don’t have proper water facilities because they can’t afford the bills. In fact, the poorest people are already paying, and actually, quite a lot. For 50 litres water a day, recommended quantity to sustain health, hygiene, and domestic use, a person from Papua New Guinea has to spend 54% of his/her daily salary. In comparison, a person who lives in the UK would need to spend only 0.1% of his/her daily salary.

2. Inequalities within states

Not only they have to pay a big chunk of their salaries for water, but very often they pay between 5 to 20 times as much as other fellow citizens who have connections to water facilities. Unregulated market places and illegal operations cause the already poorest people being further exploited from premium prices or by middlemen.

3. Women and girls are the most vulnerable

Surveys from 45 developing countries show that women and children bear the primary responsibility for water collection in 76% of households. It is one of their regular routines to walk a long distance to collect water, an estimated 6 hours per day. In South Africa alone, women collectively walk the equivalent distance of 16 times to the moon and back every day just to get the water their families need to survive. The time spent on walking and waiting cannibalises women and girls’ ability to care for families, attend schools, or achieve any other aspirations they might have.

4. Government inability to deliver and manage

In many cases, water infrastructure is actually in place. However, it is equally important that governments have the ability to maintain and improve facilities, train professionals, and manage demand and supply. If governments do not prioritise the water-related issues on their agenda, it is very likely that water infrastructure just falls out of use. In addition, the problem can be more serious in fragile areas where systems are destroyed and need to be rebuilt from scratch.

5. Population growth and climate variability

The world’s population is projected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion by 2050, with much of the growth coming from developing world. Increasing demand of water supplies is expected to pose greater threats on already under-served regions. In addition, open, unprotected water sources, the main source for people in developing countries, are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather conditions such as floods and drought. Furthermore, Black-market vendors may ask for even higher prices for water under this circumstance.

These figures might not sound so encouraging. Nevertheless, recognising challenges is the first step to identify opportunities. At Simavi, we believe that behavioural change is the key and we are dedicated in improving access to water for all. You can learn more about how we tackle water, sanitation and hygiene issues here.

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