Benefits of Providing Access to Clean Drinking Water in Developing Countries

Benefits of Providing Access to Clean Drinking Water in Developing Countries


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In spite of a concerted international effort, extensive educational campaigns, and considerable investment, there seems to be a decline in the global population’s access to safe drinking water. This is especially pronounced in developing countries. According to the World Water Council (2015), around 1.1 billion people globally do not have access to safe drinking water, with some 1.8 million annual deaths recorded as a result of diarrhoeal diseases. Of these deaths, 90% are children below the age of 5 (WHO/UNICEF 2010).  The Water Project (2016) reveals that nearly 80% of the illnesses reported in developing countries are associated with poor water and sanitation conditions. These statistics are a clear indication of the significance of improving access to safe and clean water in promoting healthy living.  The statistics also pain a glooming picture on the burden of disease in developing countries associated with poor access to safe and clean water. Accordingly, there is need to implement decisive and timely action to improve access to safe and clean drinking water in these regions.

The Burden of the problem

            UN-Water (2014) recognises access to safe and clean water as one of the most efficient means of promoting global human health. Estimates by the World Health Organization (2016), safe access to clean water, good water management, and hygienic sanitation are vital for global health. By increasing global access to safe and clean drinking water, the World Health Organization (2016) estimates that we can prevent up to 10% of the global disease burden. Diarrhoeal diseases are the main cause of illness and death in developing countries.  According to the UK’s Department for International Development (2015), poor access to safe drinking water in developing countries is not evenly distributed. Notably, rural areas are the worst affected, with women and girls being affected the most. This is because, in rural settings, women and girls are forced to walk for long distances in search of clean water which is not always accessible. Consequently, girls lag behind boys in terms of educational attainment as they are often forced not to attend school as they join their mothers in search of water (Department for International Development 2015). More importantly, the rural population is five times more likely to not have access to safe and clean drinking water in comparison with their counterparts in towns and cities. This could lead to a rise in diarrhoeal illnesses among the rural population, as well as in lost productivity.


            The provision of safe drinking water would also help to avert avoidable deaths in developing countries, with children below the age of 5 being the major culprits. This would go a long way in improving the overall health of communities in these regions.  Improving access to safe and clean water in these countries will prevent 1.4 million annual deaths in children, as a result of diarrhoea (UNICEF 2010). Investing in safer water supply systems and sanitation services would also result in improved economic gain, relative to the cost incurred in treating these diseases. In other words, it is cheaper in the long run to invest in safer methods of providing clean water compared to treating illnesses due to poor access to water and sanitation.

The United Nations General Assembly in its annual convention held on July 28, 2010, recognised access to safe drinking water for all as a basic human right vital for the realization of the other basic human rights. Towards this end, the United Nations has beseeched international organisations and States to assist with technology transfer, financial resources, and capacity-building to enable countries, and more so developing countries, to improve access to affordable, clean, and safe drinking water to their people (Connor 2015).

Improving access to safe, affordable, and clean water to developing countries also constitutes an ethical and moral necessity entrenched in the religious and cultural traditions of various countries across the globe, including those in developing countries. Values of equity, compassion, and dignity, solidarity, and comparison are shared all over the globe. By improving access to safe drinking water to households in developing countries, such a noble gesture would greatly contribute towards promoting these values (World Water Council 2015).

From an economic point of view, providing access to safe and clean water would help to generate economic benefits to developing countries. The WHO, in their analysis of benefits and costs of improved water and sanitation services globally, of which the MDG (millennium development goal) number 7 sought to fulfill, would result in significant economic gains. The report revealed that investing only $ 1 towards achieving this goal would translate into an economic gain of between $ 3 and $ 34 (Haller, Hutton & Bartram 2007), depending on the region. Other economic benefits associated with this initiative a reduction in the average cost of health incurred by developing countries in treating diseases related to poor access to safe and clean water, and lost productivity by employees when ill due to poor water and sanitation, as well as in the number of days parents of sick children have to spend away from work while attending to their children.


Access to safe, affordable, and clean drinking water is still a global problem even after the realisation of MDG number 7. Developing countries bear the greatest brunt, with people in rural areas being at a higher risk of water-borne illness such as diarrhoeal, as they can not access safe and clean drinking water.  Improving access to clean drinking water to these regions would go a long way in reducing the number of deaths reported annually as a result of diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases, especially among children below the age of five. It would also lead to improved economic gain for these regions in terms of a reduced number of sick days and improved productivity. More importantly, providing safe and clean drinking water would help to promote values of equity, comparison, and dignity, and to uphold the UN General Assembly’s recognition of safe and clean water as a basic human right for all.


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