The scale of the water supply problem

The global population is growing by 1.1% or 77 million people a year, almost all in the developing countries.

The percentage of people served with some form of improved water supply rose from 79% (4.1 billion) in 1990 to 82% (4.9 billion) in 2000 and 87% (5.8 billion) in 2008.

Over the same period the proportion of the world’s population with access to sanitation facilities increased from 55% (2.9 billion people served) to 60% (3.6 billion) in 2000 and to 61% (4.1 billion) in 2008. At the end of 2008 13% (0.9 billion people) of the world’s population was without access to improved water supply and 49% (2.6 billion people) lacked access to improved sanitation. The majority of these people live in Asia and Africa. Although the greatest increase in population will be in urban areas, the worst levels of coverage at present are in rural areas.

The number of people without water or sanitation will increase during the next twenty years.

Over 25 countries suffer chronic water shortages and this number will increase.

In the OECD countries, just less than 100% of the population has access to safe water and modern sanitation. In the low income countries 63% have access to water; much of it unsafe and 35% have some form of sanitation, mostly without even primary waste treatment.

Globally, 50% of drinking water is lost through leaks in pipes and illegal drawing.

90% of wastewater in developing countries is allowed to flow untreated into rivers, lakes and seas.

UNESCO claims that unsafe drinking water and poor or non-existent sewage account for 80% of diseases in the developing world.

Mature infrastructures of water and sewage systems exist in developed countries but in many cases they are 100 to 200 years old and well past their safe design life.

Investment forecasts for global water and sanitation provision disagree wildly but they agree in one aspect; they are all enormous and mostly lie between USD 1 to 2 trillion over the next decade. About one half of this will be required for replacement of mature assets in the industrial countries and one half will be needed to achieve minimum levels of provision in the developing world.

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