Providing Clean Water for All


Preferred State: Abundant supplies of clean water for 100% of humanity

Problem State: 1.75 billion people are without adequate drinking water

Strategy 4: Clean Water Infrastructure

Increased population and insufficient investment in infrastructure over the past several decades have left almost one-third of the world's people without access to clean water. 60% of rural families and 25% of urban homes lack safe water.(70) Water supplies in much of the developing world are either contaminated with sewage due to the lack of sanitation systems or are inaccessible to large numbers of people. Water-borne diseases such as cholera, crytosporidium, guinea worm and schistosomiasis affect over 300 million people. These diseases, when not resulting in fatalities, are debilitating and leave many of their victims unable to work at all or at their full potential. Water-borne diseases are a widespread hazard in the developing world, and people frequently must travel long distances to obtain household water.

A comprehensive clean water program would help solve these problems-and others. Programs that provide tools and education for tapping into subterranean water tables have proven to be highly effective in rural areas. A joint program of the Indian government, UNICEF and local non-governmental organizations are supplying water to over 550 million Indians with 2.2 million hand pumps and at an annual cost of $4.00 per person. India's rural access to potable water rose from 30% in 1980 to 80% in 1992 as a result of this program.

Providing the needed training, materials and organizational infrastructure for the needed wells, water and sewage pipes, sanitation facilities and water purifying systems would provide a particularly large boost to employment levels throughout the developing nations, providing many people with useful skills and long-term jobs building and maintaining the new systems. Supplying water from protected springs, shallow wells, tube wells with hand pumps, deep-dug wells, gravity systems, powered pumped systems or a combination of all these, the water systems would be locally staffed, built and controlled thereby insuring their continuing functionality and the building of local capacity. If the water systems created were built by the populations being served, they would also build the capacity of the local community to deal with other problems such as road construction, market centers and schools for the community.(71)

Most urban areas throughout the world are losing 30 to 50% of their water supply to leakage. An investment in repairing leaks, purchasing new pipes and maintaining existing and new pipe structures would pay for itself in conserved water in a few years. Mexico City's water system loses 1.9 billion cubic meters of water every year due to leakage. Jerusalem reduced its annual consumption of water by 14% from 1989 to 1991 simply by instituting a leak detection and repair system.


Water systems, depending on the level of involvement of the people being served, vary greatly in cost. The more involvement of the local community, the lower the short-term and long-term sustainability costs-and the greater the benefits to the community in the building of community capacity to deal with other local problems. Installation costs range from less than $5.00 per person served to close to $100.(72) The lower cost figure would result in a total needed expenditure of less than $10 billion to meet the needs of all the people in the world who currently do not have access to clean water while the higher figure would result in $175 billion. Using $50 per person as the benchmark, an investment in water and sanitation materials, training and programs of $10 billion per year for ten years would insure that all of the world's people were provided with enough water to meet their personal needs.(73) This is about 1.2% of the world's total annual military expenditures, or about 1% of what is being spent on illegal drugs in the world each year. It is also about 15% of what the US spends per year on alcohol and tobacco.(74)

With adequate water supplies, productivity would rise on farms, where frequent time-consuming trips for water are eliminated, and generally, as debilitating water-borne diseases are reduced and eliminated as a major danger to health. Assuming the provision of clean water resulted in the saving of one million lives per year, the total savings to the world would be $990 billion per year. The pay-back on investment time would be less than 4 days. Putting a value on human life at one-half of what the US government does would result in a pay-back time of less than 8 days, and a monetary value of $10,000 would pay back the investment in one year.

Next Strategy >
What the World Wants Chart >

Eighteen Strategies...

...for tackling the major problems confronting humanity:

1. Eliminate Starvation and Malnourishment >
2. Provide Health Care & AIDS Control >
3. Provide Shelter >
4. Provide Clean Safe Water
(current page)
5. Eliminate Illiteracy >
6. Provide Clean, Safe Energy: Efficiency >
7. Provide Clean, Safe Energy: Renewables >
8. Retire Developing Nations Debt >
9. Stabilize Population >
10. Prevent Soil Erosion >
11. Stop Deforestation >
12. Stop Ozone Depletion >
13. Prevent Acid Rain >
14. Prevent Global Warming >
15. Remove Landmines >
16. Refugee Relief >
17. Eliminating Nuclear Weapons >
18. Build Democracy >

The What the World Wants Project is by Medard Gabel and the research staff of the World Game Institute. The material in this section of Media Hell is quoted directly from that research. Credits, Major References & Footnotes >