Water Water Everywhere – But People in the Way?


In the worldwide struggle to get clean water to those in need, it’s people who are the biggest problem.

That’s the conclusion of the World Water Forum, which met this month in Istanbul to examine global water supply problems and offer suggestions to world governments. At the Forum, the United Nations published their summary of the state of world water supplies. In a word – mismanaged. The summary pointed toward the lack of international cooperation, the often unbalanced allocation between commercial, food-producing and domestic supplies and, in particular, the absence of economic development.

At a time when world economies need all the help they can get, it’s particularly damning that investment in water management can turn a tidy profit, paying back between 300% and 3,400% on the initial investment depending on location, according to the World Health Organization. Furthermore, poor water supplies can hobble a country’s GDP – for example, currently costing Africa an estimated $28 billion a year (PDF). Water isn’t just a life-saver – it’s a money-spinner as well.

“The green is being stressed but not the blue…”

– Angel Gurría, General Secretary, OECD

Water is being overlooked for many reasons. It’s easy to associate water supply problems with the most wartorn and socially depressed areas of the developing world, but one severe drought can topple the sturdiest-seeming water management system, as California is currently discovering. The only effective way forward has to be an interdependent one – where businesses and politicians work and legislate in favor of the big picture, not just their corner of it. And as a nice incentive, this appears to be where all the money is.

Image: bortescristian

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.