Clean Water By: Alexander Peterson

Part 1

The clean water challenge is significant

Clean water is an essential resource for human life. Each person on Earth needs 20-50 liters of clean, safe water a day to drink, to cook, and for sanitation. However, more than 1 billion people (1 in 6) do not have reliable access to clean and safe water

This lack of access is a violation of a fundamental human right. It leads to economic hardship, disease and unnecessary death

Key drivers of the challenge

I. Limited and uneven supplies

The Earth's potable water supplies are actually very limited. 2-3% of all water is freshwater (not salinated), and only 15-20% of this is in liquid form. These limited supplies are not evenly distributed.

II. Human activity

Human activity often pollutes these limited supplies:

  • Poor sanitation practices and infrastructure
  • Industrial / manufacturing waste
  • Farming - fertilizers and pesticides
Poor sanitation practices, as well as waste from industrial / manufacturing sources, and from farming practices, all lead to the pollution of Earth's limited freshwater supplies.
Poor sanitation, in particular, leads to extensive disease and death

III. Need for investment and education

Water treatment and distribution systems can be costly to install and maintain, but these costs need to be assessed relative to the extensive hardship experienced by those without these services. There is clearly a role for the developed world to play here, both in terms of investment and education.

Part 2

Current State of the Clean Water Challenge

"The failure to provide safe drinking water and adequate sanitation services to all people is perhaps the greatest development failure of the 20th century. The most egregious consequence of this failure is the high rate of mortality among young children from preventable water-related diseases." (Peter H. Gleick, Pacific Institute)

World Maps - a wide-spread problem

Insufficient access to clean, safe drinking water is experienced across the world - but it is particularly focused in lesser developed countries. This is illustrated in the map below.

Percentage of world population without reasonable access to safe water (UNICEF, 2015)

A significant contributing factor to the scarcity of clean drinking water relates to insufficient sanitation (i.e. treatment of human waste). The extent of this problem is illustrated below.

The consequences of poor sanitation: disease and death

"Water-related diseases kill a child every eight seconds, and are responsible for 80 per cent of all illnesses and deaths in the developing world – a situation made all the more tragic by our long-standing knowledge that these diseases are easily preventable." (Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General)

If human waste is not kept segregated from water supplies, or appropriately treated, it causes the transmission of diseases - including diarrhea, cholera and typhoid. Many of these illnesses lead to death, and affect children disproportionately.

  • Worldwide, waterborne diseases are the number one killer of children under 5 years old.
  • Unsafe or inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene cause approximately 3.1 percent of all deaths worldwide.
  • A full 15% of child deaths each year are attributable to diarrhea – this equates to a child dying every 15 seconds.

Other effects: impoverishment and lowered opportunities

In many countries with inadequate water supplies, women and girls are responsible for finding and collecting water for their families.

The average woman or girl in a developing nation walks six kilometers a day to retrieve water. This time-consuming responsibility often robs them of the opportunity for education and earning a livelihood - contributing to the cycle of poverty

Part 3

The Clean Water Challenge in Pakistan
Overview of Pakistan


  • Population of 188 million, and growing rapidly (35% are under age 18)
  • Highly varied geography - mountains, deserts, vast flood plains
  • Monsoon climate - 70% of rainfall in 3 summer months
  • Agriculture has always been an important industry
  • Increasing trend to urbanization
  • Extremely unequal distribution of incomes, with very little history of investment in social programs
  • Relatively poor: GDP per capita of only $1,550 (ranked 141/182 globally)

The State of Pakistan’s Water Infrastructure is Very Poor


  • 90% of population has access to “improved” water, and 50-60% has access to sanitation facilities
  • BUT, this leaves about 16m people without access to any treated water, and 68m without any sanitation
  • Also, municipal water infrastructure is poorly designed and maintained, with bacterial and other contamination (lead, arsenic, etc.) being highly prevalent – making the true situation much worse
  • Almost all utilities fail to collect sufficient revenue to cover basic operation costs. As a result, water supplies are usually very intermittent (1-10 hours/day)
  • Pakistan can barely store 30 days of water supply in its dams, so summer monsoon rains are mostly lost
  • More than 90% of all of the country’s water supply is applied to agricultural irrigation, through an extensive network of canals
  • Only 1% of all industrial waste is treated before being discharged into the environment

The Consequences of Pakistan’s Clean Water Crisis are Dire

  • It is estimated that there are 100 million cases of diarrhea registered with hospitals each year, due to unsafe water and poor sanitation
  • Up to 40% of all hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from water-related diseases. These include diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, polio, intestinal worms, hepatitis, and poisoning from arsenic and lead.
Over 41,000 children die annually from diarrhea alone


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