Hammond, Allen L. / Koch, James / Noguera, Francisco / 2009. The need for safe water as a market opportunity.
Innovations, 4 (3): 107-117.

There is a huge unmet need across the globe for access to safe drinking water. This problem kills millions of our brethren each year—780,000 in India alone. Diarrheal disease causes 1,600 deaths a day—more than any other. While we in the U.S. and other Western nations simply turn the handle on a faucet to access drinking water, people in many parts of the world spend a major portion of each day seeking sources of water and gathering wood or other fuel to boil the water in order to destroy potentially deadly microorganisms. This burden falls primarily to women and young girls. It is revealing that seven of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are associated with having access to safe water. These include achieving gender equality; combating extreme poverty (73 million working days are lost each year in India due to waterborne disease); providing primary education (37.7 million Indians are sick from waterborne disease each year—many of them school-age children); and preventing child mortality (diarrheal disease kills 400,000 to 500,000 Indian children under age five each year). Promoting maternal health, combating disease, and ensuring environmental sustainability are other MDGs related to having safe water. Global trends suggest that both ground- and surface-water sources, especially in developing countries, are becoming more, not less, polluted. These conditions constitute an enormous social challenge that has persisted despite significant efforts by governments and international agencies to relieve them. Another way of looking at this problem, however, is to observe that it constitutes a large unmet demand and hence a potential business or social-enterprise opportunity. In fact, while commercial approaches to urban-scale water treatment have encountered well-known difficulties when attempting to reach beyond city limits, a new wave of social entrepreneurs has not been discouraged from tackling the problem on a smaller, community-level scale. Their efforts in bringing down technology-related costs, such as working closely with local governments and communities to influence the way they relate to water, have resulted in a willingness to pay for clean water (and, in some cases, sanitation services), even in very poor communities, as experiences in India, rural Africa, and parts of Latin America have shown. Indeed, we believe—and this article documents—that community-scale water treatment is potentially ready to take off and spur truly transformative change.

> Download

Appeared in

Sector: Sanitation
Region: South Asia