Global Water Crisis
Over 1 billion people don't have access to clean
drinking water; more than 2 billion lack access to adequate sanitation; and millions die every year due to preventable water-related diseases. Water
resources around the globe are threatened by climate change, misuse,
and pollution. But there are solutions: we can provide for people's
basic needs while protecting the environment by using innovative water
efficiency and conservation strategies, community-scale projects,
smart economics, and new technology.
That a billion people lack access to clean water is surely
one of the greatest development failures of the modern era. That
as many as 5 million people – mainly children – die
every year from preventable, water-related disease is surely one
of the great tragedies of our time.
Unfortunately, despite a growing recognition that more must be
done to help those without clean water or adequate sanitation,
a report by the Pacific
Institute estimates that over 34 million people might perish
in the next 20 years from water-related disease -- even if the
United Nations “Millennium Development Goals,” which
aim to cut the proportion of those without safe access by half,
The problem is not merely a lack of aid (although more money
is needed) or a lack of technology. It is a failure of vision
and will. According to many international water experts, hundreds
of billions of dollars are needed to bring safe water to everyone
who needs it. Since international water aid is so paltry, many
of these experts claim that privatization of water services is
the only way to help the poor.
But many critics of this approach note that community-scale infrastructure
and efficiency and conservation can bring basic water services
to the millions who need it without breaking the bank. And many
critics of the “gold-plated” approach argue that water
privatization, although it can play some productive role, will
never be able to bring water to the world’s poorest people.
However, there are solutions to the global water crisis that
don’t involve massive dams, large-scale infrastructure,
and tens or hundreds of billions of dollars. First and foremost,
we must use what the Pacific Institute calls “soft path”
solutions to the global water crisis. Soft path solutions aim
to improve the productivity of water rather than seek endless
new supply; soft path solutions complement centrally-planned infrastructure
with community scale projects; and soft path solutions involve
stake-holders in key decisions so that water deals and projects
protect the environment and the public interest.
The Pacific Institute
advocates the creation of a National
Water Commission, which will provide guidance to U.S.
water policy and, in turn, greater funding to ameliorate
the global water crisis.
The Pacific Institute is also calling for a global initiative
to provide safe water, adequate sanitation, and hygiene
education at 100 percent of the world's
schools within a decade.
With the release of The World's Water Volume 7, Peter Gleick talks with EOS, newspaper of the American Geophysical Union, about "Meeting Basic Human Needs for Water Presents Huge Challenge." (November 2011)