Let’s build one big pipeline with a faucet in every home

This editorial from The New York Times is amusing. The author speaks of bottled water and how it’s, among many apparent faults, not socially responsible. His logic is boring. Consider:

Bottled water is undeniably more fashionable and portable than tap water. The practice of carrying a small bottle, pioneered by supermodels [my note – Huh???], has become commonplace. But despite its association with purity and cleanliness, bottled water is bad for the environment. It is shipped at vast expense from one part of the world to another, is then kept refrigerated before sale, and causes huge numbers of plastic bottles to go into landfills.

Of course, tap water is not so abundant in the developing world. And that is ultimately why I find the illogical enthusiasm for bottled water not simply peculiar, but distasteful. For those of us in the developed world, safe water is now so abundant that we can afford to shun the tap water under our noses, and drink bottled water instead: our choice of water has become a lifestyle option. For many people in the developing world, however, access to water remains a matter of life or death.

More than 2.6 billion people, or more than 40 percent of the world’s population, lack basic sanitation, and more than one billion people lack reliable access to safe drinking water. The World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of all illness in the world is due to water-borne diseases, and that at any given time, around half of the people in the developing world are suffering from diseases associated with inadequate water or sanitation, which kill around five million people a year.

Widespread illness also makes countries less productive, more dependent on outside aid, and less able to lift themselves out of poverty. One of the main reasons girls do not go to school in many parts of the developing world is that they have to spend so much time fetching water from distant wells.

I agree, clean water is a major issue and much suffering would cease with easy access to it. But… Illness alone does not make developing countries more dependent on outside aid. Tyrannical dictatorships make developing countries more dependent on outside aid. Illogical foreign aid policies by the developed world, in support of said dictatorships, makes developing countries more dependent on outside aid. The United States gives money to countries all around the world. Why aren’t they improving? Why do we see the same issues over and over?

And yet, the author continues with this:

Clean water could be provided to everyone on earth for an outlay of $1.7 billion a year beyond current spending on water projects, according to the International Water Management Institute. Improving sanitation, which is just as important, would cost a further $9.3 billion per year. This is less than a quarter of global annual spending on bottled water.

What if, just maybe, the incompetent, willfully negligent governments in developing countries misappropriate those additional funds. What then? Perhaps the palaces of Iraq could possibly verify such a radical theory. Regardless, as long as there are non-caring, bottled-water guzzling fashionistas, I’m glad that there are people smart enough to remind me that throwing more money at the problem is the answer. Brilliant!

(Hat tip: Radley Balko)