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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Facts of the day: clean water

It's hot and dry across the USA right now, but at least Americans generally have plentiful access to clean drinking water and toilets. Much of the world does not, which is why the UN's Millennium Development Goals include plans to improve access.

Consider this information, from the Earth Policy Institute:
The United Nations Millennium Development Goal for environmental sustainability calls for halving the proportion of people lacking sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015. Meeting this goal would require doubling the $15 billion a year that the world currently spends on water supply and sanitation. While this amount may seem large, it pales in comparison to the estimated $100 billion spent each year on bottled water.
As the EPI article points out, bottling water creates all sorts of negative externalities for the environment -- the bottles alone require millions of barrels of oil and several million tons of plastic, most of which is NOT recycled. In the US, about 85% of bottles end up as garbage or litter and nearly 40% of recycled bottles are exported!

Americans drink about one-sixth of the world's bottled war annually; the top two brands are Aquafina and Dasani. Those familiar bottles are filled with filtered tap water, marketed and sold by Pepsi and Coke. According to government and industry estimates, about one-fourth of all bottled water is merely tap water. Chemical tests often reveal that bottled water is not safer than water from the tap and is often less healthy.

Since bottled water frequently (perhaps typically) costs more per gallon than gasoline, figure that Americans spend somewhere around $10 to $15 billion per year on this product.

I will repeat from above. The UN MDG seeks $15 billion annually to provide clean drinking water to 1 to 1.5 billion people (mostly in Asia and Africa) and basic sanitation to nearly 2.5 billion people.

Lack of access to clean water and sanitation are major factors in various childhood diseases, like diarrhea, which kill 11 million kids under the age of 5 annually. These factors are also a large reason why malaria kills 1 million of the 300 million cases of infection every year. Women and children spend considerable amounts of time finding and carrying water -- often instead of attending school.

The world currently consumes 150+ billion liters of bottled water each year, so it would cost less than 10 cents per liter to achieve the MDG goal.

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