The Third World’s Drinking Problem

According to the World Economic Forum's ninth annual Global Risks report, four of the ten most serious risks that the world will face in the coming decade are water-related. While international organizations recognize the imperative of ensuring enough potable water, their approach to meeting it has been entirely wrong.

SINGAPORE – During its recent gathering in Davos, the World Economic Forum released its ninth annual Global Risks report, which relies on a survey of more than 700 business leaders, government officials, and non-profit actors to identify the world’s most serious risks in the next decade. Perhaps most remarkable, four of the ten threats listed this year are water-related.

These risks include water crises stemming from droughts and floods, the deterioration of water quality, and poor water management; failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change; higher incidence of extreme weather events; and food crises, driven at least partly by water shortages. But the report fails to highlight the most pressing water-related concern: ensuring enough potable water. Moreover, while international organizations recognize the problem, their approach to addressing it is entirely wrong.

In 2012, the United Nations announced that the Millennium Development Goals’ target of halving the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water had been achieved well ahead of schedule, with only 783 million people still lacking access to clean water. But the Third World Center for Water Management estimates that at least three billion people worldwide still drink water of dubious quality. AquaFed, which represents private water companies, puts this figure at 3.4 billion – nearly half the world’s population. This suggests that the UN’s declaration of victory was premature, to say the least.

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