Photo: People wait in line for water in China

People queue up to get drinking water from a water truck in Lianzhou, in China's Guangdong province.

Photograph by Color China Photo/AP

Our connection to this precious natural resource is clear—the human body is nearly 70 percent water. Without water to drink, a person could die of dehydration in a matter of days, even hours.

Yet access to a source of clean drinking water is not a given around the globe. Nearly a billion people are lacking safe drinking water, and 2.7 billion are lacking adequate sanitation. By some accounts, 800 people die every day from waterborne diseases.

Access is a complicated issue, often influenced by politics, economics, climate, and social structure. In some developing countries where there is no plumbing infrastructure, water is sold from trucks by entrepreneurs for inflated prices. Or people have to walk for miles to collect water from distant lakes and streams, or groundwater pumps.

In other areas, water is rationed because of drought. In many regions, the resource is subsidized and consumers never know the real costs associated with turning on the faucet.

Even worse, bottled water is promoted as a solution, when the environmental costs of plastic and pumping are generally much higher that the traditional tap.

Some people simply can't take a clean glass of H20, or a toilet, for granted.

Fast Fact

  • 40 percent of people in Africa lack access to clean drinking water; 53 percent in Asia.
  • In many cities, 15-40 percent of water is lost to leaking pipes.
  • New York City is investing some $1.5 billion to restore and protect the Catskills-Delaware watershed, which supplies 90 percent of  its drinking water. The city has avoided construction of a $6 billion filtration plant that would cost an additional $300 million a year to operate.


Did You Know?

In Quito, Ecuador, municipal water utilities and electric companies now pay nearly $1 million a year into a fund used to protect the watersheds that supply the city’s two million residents with 80 percent of their water. Started in 2000 in partnership with the Nature Conservancy, Quito’s water fund has become a model for other Latin American cities, including Cuenca, Ecuador, and Lima, Peru.

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