05 September 2005

Water for the poor

Economics dictates that water is a public good. Its availability is a basic human right. Yet, over a billion poor people around the world lack access to safe drinking water. Every year, 12 million from this billion population die from drinking disease-contaminated water.

On this account, the UN’s Millennium Development Project has taken on a huge responsibility – that of reducing by half this one billion population which lacks access to safe drinking water – by the year 2015. Since water is a human right, the disbursal of safe drinking water is a job of the government. Yet, in the developing countries, to which this one billion population belongs, the governments (both existing and past) have failed to recognise this basic human right for centuries. How then will the UN achieve its target?

Here’s more: Typically, in developing countries, drinking water supplies are channelled to the rich, the politically-connected and the middle class. The poor, without safe drinking water, either fall ill, fall ill and die, or end up paying for water supplied to them in tankers by contractors. What this means is this: the rich get water cheap, while those who actually cannot afford to pay, pay for their drinking water. Sometimes, the monies the poor pay for drinking water is way above the rates the rich pay for branded water like Evian or Perrier.

As an answer to this, some developing countries have turned to the private sector for supplying safe drinking water to the poor. India is one of them, though things have not worked out exactly the way everyone anticipated. This UN report explains some of the problems faced by India’s poor. [PDF file]