Most of us in the US – at least for now – can take for granted the clean, affordable water that flows through our faucets. Millions of people in developing countries, however, find that getting water feels like highway robbery.
A New York Times report recounts consumers’ harrowing experiences in Nepal, elsewhere in South Asia, the Middle East, South America and sub-Saharan Africa where tanker trucks deliver water at out-of-control costs. The alternative is parts of cities actually running dry, so the stakes are high and people pay accordingly for water to wash, cook and clean. On top of that, the water quality isn’t always safe.
“Tanker water costs on average 10 times more than government-supplied pipeline water, according to a World Resources Institute study of water access in 15 cities across the developing world, a figure that rises to 52 times more in Mumbai,” the NYT article says.
Aging infrastructure, where any exists, is part of the problem, as are drought, lack of government capability, and poverty. Impact investing at all levels is called for. We also need to address the growing privatization of water – from what entities should the public’s water come from? When governments fail to provide enough water, the private sector steps in, often without oversight, price limits, or other safeguards.
Estimates are that the number of tankers providing water in Karachi, Pakistan has doubled in the past 10 years and quadrupled in Lagos, Nigeria. Since the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen in 2015, tankers are providing much of the urban market water needs. Across India and other countries, tankers have multiplied as migration swells from rural to urban areas, often slums.
“Up to 1.9 billion city dwellers might experience seasonal water shortages by midcentury, according to the World Bank,” the NYT says. That gives us at best 30 years to figure this out.