Water in the developing world: how do people access it?

“Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.”

Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798), Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Water is the basis for all life, yet dirty water is the top cause of child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, and the second leading cause of child death in the rest of the world.

Unlocking access to clean water is so vital because it triggers a chain reaction: once the health problems associated with contaminated water are eliminated, people are freed from worry, but more importantly, they can be more productive and break the cycle of poverty. Not having to walk miles and miles a day just to get water grants people the freedom to pursue work and education; a constant supply allows crops to be properly hydrated in otherwise parched lands. Health services can focus on other ailments, rather than being constantly held back having to treat and re-treat patients infected with water-borne diseases.

So what are some of the ways that water can be accessed in developing countries?

  • In many parts of the world, lakes and rivers provide much of the usable water for the population. Four hundred million people, for instance, rely on the River Ganges watershed in India for their daily H2O.
  • In areas where rainfall isn’t reliable and there isn’t any water infrastructure, such as Kabul, Afghanistan, groundwater can be the main water source. Groundwater is defined as water held underground in the soil, or in pores and crevices in rock. Supplies can be tapped into with wells and pumps, but will often contain more minerals than surface water, so requires treatment. If they can afford the fuel, parents will often boil the water before infants drink it to remove impurities.
  • In some villages where water access is particularly limited like Melbena, Ethiopia, water trucks are relied upon to deliver fresh water to residents. While it works temporarily, this is not a viable long-term solution.

Water will only get more scarce as the population increases, and finding sustainable solutions to this enduring problem is paramount. The issue must be addressed in order to keep releasing poor communities from the poverty trap which prevents them from progressing and achieving their full potential.

Main image: FMSC at Flickr Creative Commons

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