NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Safe Water, Cheaply

March 11, 2003

Millions die each year in developing countries due to infections from dirty drinking water. It will take decades and many billions of dollars to construct clean water supply systems. However, there is an inexpensive way to disinfect drinking water for household use, and public health researchers have developed a program called the Safe Water System to educate people in developing countries about that alternative.

Dirty water is a source of diarrheal diseases in children, for example, which usually kill by dehydrating the victim.

  • "More than one billion people still lack access to safe water, despite billions of dollars spent on water infrastructure in the developing world," says Eric Mintz, chief of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) diarrheal disease epidemiology section.
  • Some four to five billion episodes of diarrhea yearly cause 2.2 million child deaths under the age of five, says Population Services International.
  • Comprehensive testing in six countries showed that the rate of diarrhea could be cut by 50 percent in households using a sodium hypochlorite solution produced by diluting commercially produced bleach.

The dilute bleach is cheaper than the water purification tablets (calcium hypochlorite) used by travelers.

  • A monthly supply of dilute bleach will cost a family $0.15 to $0.30.
  • Using a liquid solution means there is less danger of people consuming it in error than when using tablets.

The private sector in each country could produce the bleach solution and proper containers for sale to individual families. "The CDC firmly believes that people should pay for this product rather than getting it free, because they will value it more and will therefore be more likely to use it," said Mintz.

Source: Sarah Macdonald, "Water purifying system could save lives in developing countries," March 8, 2003, British Medical Journal.


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