The Affordability of Water Around the World

Written by Carly Hallman

How much does drinking water cost around the world, and how much does it cost depending on how much you make? We’ve created a map of the global water crisis, comparing the median household income in a country to its average cost of a 1.5-liter bottle of water. Facts about water tell us that, while it may not be precisely a one-for-one line between income and water cost, there seems to be at least some correlation, with outliers getting a great deal of scrutiny.

What are the current costs of drinking water, and how available is it globally?

Affordability of Water Around the World
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The majority of the world pays between a quarter and one dollar and fifty cents for a 1.5-liter bottle of drinking water (which is about a third of a gallon), but that price remains roughly the same regardless of the median income. So, when you consider the cost of living and how much of your pay goes toward water, there are some extreme disparities.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 844 million people do not have a safely managed drinking water service within a half-an-hour round trip. Some countries spend a fortune on drinking water, putting a strain on their entire economies. According to Water Aid, poor water causes the death of a child under the age of five about every two minutes. These are only some of the unsettling drinking water facts that contribute to the global water crisis; however, what’s even more disturbing is that these estimates for the average cost of water across the world are likely only going to skyrocket in the next few years.

What is water scarcity?

It’s defined as “the lack of sufficient available water resources to meet the demands of a region.” This can be in the form of a water shortage, water stress, or a water crisis. Water stress is the least urgent, involving difficulty in the hunt for new freshwater sources while current resources are being depleted without replenishing. The difference between scarcity and shortage is that shortages usually involve extreme conditions like droughts, floods, or pollution. A water crisis is the most extreme situation in which drinkable water is overall less than the demand, causing problems on a governmental level.

Because water scarcity in the US is almost never as extreme as some of the other countries on this list, the severity of the world water shortage is a bit harder to understand and convey. But it’s clear when you look at global water resources how bad the situation would be: The UN estimates that two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas by 2025. Water is going to start becoming unaffordable for millions of Americans, too, with the most stressed regions likely being traditionally arid and high-population regions like California.

What is the price of water, to us?

Unpolluted H2O is a need, rather than a desire, so it will likely skyrocket uncontrollably with the demand if the situation isn’t put under control, away from free-market influence. The EPA has done a lot to push down the pricing structures of water, and clean water services are created through charity work every day. On the other hand, the facts about drinking water are simply that about 700 million people are suffering today, and that number will be in the billions within about a decade.

These water statistics can be overwhelming and impossible to imagine. Global water issues are hard to grapple, so take some interpersonal examples closer to home. The clean drinking water situation in Flint, Michigan, has not gotten better.

The complexity of the issue is this: Water affordability might not change in this country, but water pollution statistics indicate that contaminants like lead, micro-plastics, and other chemicals will make our tap water nearly undrinkable. These are water crisis facts that are less obvious but much become more significant problems over time.

Hopefully, we can live in a world where more people, not only Americans, can access affordable water that’s clean and free of contaminants, and the average cost of water remains low. These water scarcity facts, though, make it hard to accept that as a future reality. Hopefully, we won’t live the line from the famous poem, “Water, water, everywhere; Nor any drop to drink.” Consider donating to water-centric causes, and learn how to test the water in your community.

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