Water Pipe Dreams

Despite recent progress, more than one billion people still lack decent water supplies, and more than two billion go without sanitation services. But, while we often assume that the benefits of improving water and sanitation systems always outweigh the costs, this is not always true.

CHAPEL HILL, NC – Despite recent progress, more than one billion people still lack decent water supplies, and more than two billion go without sanitation services. But, while we often assume that the benefits of improving water and sanitation systems always outweigh the costs, this is not always true.

Piped water and sanitation networks are expensive. Consumers in most countries don’t realize this, because the true costs are hidden by subsidies. New research for Copenhagen Consensus reveals that the full cost of piping water to a household is as high as $80 per month – more than most households in rich countries pay and far beyond the means of most families in developing countries. Assuming that the poor use much less water, the monthly cost of conventional network technologies drops to $20 – still a significant outlay.

If we calculate the time and energy lost in developing nations to gathering, treating, and storing water, and the health burden caused by a lack of decent drinking water and sanitation, the costs of creating a typical water and sewer network can remain higher than the benefits. Spending a large amount of money to do a little amount of good is not a sound investment.

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