Access to clean water still a major problem in developing countries

Published: Friday, Oct. 12 2012 12:03 p.m. MDT

Access to clean water continues to be a major problem for developing countries around the world.

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People universally agree that water is essential for life. No living being on the planet can survive without it, according to a report by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

And not only is water essential for life, it is crucial for economic development. Investing in water management and services is a necessary condition for enabling sustained economic growth, according to a report by the World Health Organization. Access to water is crucial for agricultural productivity and industry, wrote Shanta Devarajan, chief economist for Africa at the World Bank.

However, despite its enormous importance, access to clean water continues to be a major problem for developing countries around the world.

In some countries like Ethiopia, access to water is limited by drought. Other countries like Tanzania have ample surface and ground water but still face massive water shortages.

Tanzanian water shortages are due to insufficient capacity to access and store it in both rural and urban areas, wrote Jacques Morisset of the World Bank on the blog Africa can end poverty.

"Few households have access to clean drinking water from a piped source. Only a small fraction of rural households can access water to irrigate their farms," he wrote.

The magnitude of the problem is immense, wrote Morisset. For example, only 3 percent of total cultivated area in Tanzania were under irrigation in 2010. And more than 70 percent of households are more than 15 minutes away from their main water source. Additionally, access to water from a piped source has stagnated over the past two decades. In 1991-92, 33.5 percent of the population had such access to water from a piped source, compared to 33.1 percent in 2010.

Morisset says hard infrastructure and water storage systems are badly needed.

"There is need to build pipes, irrigation systems and pumps in both urban and rural areas," he said. Maintenance of existing systems, which tends to be neglected, is also crucial. Morisset suggests there is also a need to to rethink the distribution of responsibilities between the central and local governments and to be clearer on who will pay for water use.

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