Aid works: safe drinking water

Boys with water containersThe good news is that 83% of the world’s population now has access to safe drinking water. But the bad news is that, despite good progress, there are more than 1 billion people without safe water and 2 billion people without sanitation.

From 1990 to 2002, the proportion of the world’s population with access to safe drinking water was increased from 77% to 83%. Over the twelve years, about 1.1 billion people gained access to improved water.

Within this, progress has been particularly impressive in South Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa. In Africa, where much of the progress has been financed by foreign assistance, coverage has increased from 49% to 58%.

Some improvements in access to safe drinking water in Africa

Country 1990 2002
Tanzania 38% 73%
Chad 20% 34%
Malawi 41% 67%
Anglola 32% 50%
CAR 48% 75%
Ghana 54% 79%
Eritrea 40% 57%
Mali 34% 48%
Kenya 45% 62%
Namibia 58% 80%
Uganda 44% 56%
Rwanda 58% 73%

More bad news: more than 2.6 billion people – 42% of the world’s population – does not have access to adequate sanitation – not even a basic pit latrine. But also some more good news: over the same period, 1990 to 2002, the proportion of people with access to sanitation has increased from 49% to 58%. Coverage in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 32% to 36%.

Some improvements in access to sanitation

Country 1990 2002
Benin 11% 32%
India 12% 30%
Cameroon 21% 48%
Bangladesh 23% 48%
China 23% 44%
Vietnam 22% 41%
Senegal 35% 52%

Chart of aid for water
Source: OECD DAC
Aid to the water sector has averaged about $3 billion a year in recent years (including bilateral and multilateral aid); of which about three quarters is spent on access to safe water and sanitation. But this is not something that can or should be financed only, or even mainly, by aid. In fact, donor support makes up about 16% of the $14 billion which is spent each year in developing countries on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. About 70% is provided by the domestic public sector, and the rest comes in the form of private sector investment (two thirds of which comes from foreign investment).

Which means that about $35bn of aid has contributed to more than 1 billion people getting access to safe drinking water, and more than 1.5 billion getting access to sanitation. At around $30-$40 a head, that sounds like a good deal to me.

According to UNICEF, and based on actual experience in delivering water and sanitation, it would cost a total of about $100 billion to meet the Millennium Development Goal to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015 – an average of about $6.7 billion a year. If this seems like a lot of money, put it in perspective: Europe and the US spend $17 billion a year on pet food.

What this means for ordinary people

According to the World Health Organization, some 3,900 children die each day because of dirty water or poor hygiene.

Over at OurPlanet, you can read about how this investment in water has affected the life of a particular village in Kenya.

Drilling the boreholes – the greatest expense, at a cost of $2,000-3,000 a time – is done by the Kenyan Water Ministry, while KWAHO provides the pumps. The community has to find the maintenance cost, around $12 per pump. As a single pump serves an average of 250 people and lasts about 10 years, each family may pay 6 US cents per week.

… Health has improved. Mwanaisha Meropia, a mother of six, who lives in Mwabungo village says that her cough gradually disappeared and a pain in her chest stopped troubling her after the pump was installed. There has been a marked decline in water-related diseases and hygiene standards have risen.

The Task Force on Water and Sanitation details some case studies of what has been achieved and how.

You can read about how UNICEF has helped to provide clean water in South Korea here.

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