Making Universal Water Access Sexy

In discussions around the MDGs, improved access to a safe water supply is often cited as a success story. The data supports this narrative — 2.6 billion have gained access to improved drinking water since 1990, and more than half of the global population (58%) now have piped drinking water on their premises. While this is a huge achievement, the Sustainable Development Goals have an essential role to play in driving sustained change and guaranteeing universal access. Any set of figures can be framed in two ways and there remain huge numbers of people without access to even the most basic Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services, including an estimated 663 million lacking access to an acceptable drinking-water source.

Our organization — Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) — is focused on a specific and growing aspect of this challenge. The urbanization of developing countries is already a dominant global trend, with more and more people projected to migrate to urban centers in coming decades: by the time you finish reading this sentence, the world’s urban population will have increased by 10 people. Many of these people will move to one of the city’s low-income areas and all of them require access to WASH services. Water utilities in the developing world are typically mandated to serve the whole city — including these low-income areas — but may be overwhelmed by the pace of change and the scale of the task.

This is where WSUP has a role to play in bridging the capacity gap. We work closely with utilities and start with a basic principle: people living in low-income areas are customers, too, and in most cases they can afford to pay for a utility-managed water supply. A dangerous misconception is that it doesn’t make —> Read More