NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Clean, Blue Water

March 25, 2003

There is a growing recognition that poverty is a core environmental issue. Globally, the poorest countries face the worst environmental problems. They are poor because they lack the political, economic and cultural institutions necessary for economic growth. Because of their poverty, they lack the capital to invest in environmental protection.

One urgent problem in poor countries is the lack of access to clean drinking water.

  • Worldwide, there are 1.1 billion persons who lack clean drinking water.
  • In North America, 100 percent of the population has a clean water supply, and in Europe 96 percent do.
  • In Asia, 81 percent have potable water, but because that is the most population continent, it has the largest number of people without -- about 700 million.
  • In Africa, only 62 percent -- out of a population of more than three-quarters of a billion -- have clean running water.

However, important progress in increasing access to clean water was made between 1990 and 2000, much of it in countries with higher economic growth rates.

  • Although world population increased by nearly 800 million during the decade, in both Asia and Africa the percent of population with access to clean water jumped five percentage points.
  • Worldwide, 816 million people gained access to clean water.

Water is subsidized or free in Africa. Often there are no incentives to protect it or penalties for polluting it. Farmers' runoff damages downstream waters, industrial polluters dump waste products, and cities pour untreated effluents into rivers and lakes.

Corporate business enterprises have the expertise and access to financing necessary to build water purification plants, wastewater treatment plants, pipelines and pumping stations. To harness these capabilities, poor countries must reform institutions to secure property rights and freedom of enterprise.

Source: Michael Novak (American Enterprise Institute), "Blue Is True," National Review, March 10, 2003.


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