City Water for All

VEVEY, SWITZERLAND – How many people in the world’s towns and cities can drink the water in their tap without risking their health? The answer is probably impossible to determine. Indeed, the United Nations uses the term “improved” sources of water to describe what is supplied in many urban areas around the world. Unfortunately, “improved” does not always mean “clean” or “safe.”

The 2012 update of the World Health Organization’s report Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation estimates that at least 96% of urban dwellers in emerging economies like China, India, Thailand, and Mexico have access to “improved” sources of water. And yet a study carried out by the Asian Institute of Technology found that less than 3% of Bangkok’s residents drink water directly from the tap, because they do not trust its quality.

Visit any major city in an emerging economy, from Mexico City to Mumbai, and you will be hard pressed to find anyone who believes that the water piped into their homes is fit to drink. Estimates by the Third World Center for Water Management indicate that more than two billion people do not trust the quality of the water to which they have access.

It doesn’t have to be like this. In the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, one official has shown that good management of this precious resource can make a difference. When Ek Sonn Chan became Director-General of the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority nearly 20 years ago, the city had a dismal water supply, with nearly 83% lost to leakages and unauthorized connections.