What to do with # 3: Water
An interview with Tabitha Gerrets, Aqua for All.
September 16, 2013
Water, we all need it to stay alive and healthy. It is a vital and necessary, but often scarce good. Indeed, humans exist on average around 50 – 65% out of water and for a newborn baby this is much higher (75%). Therefore, we need around 2 litres of water a day. However, the distribution of our drinking water is unequal since some areas experience drought, while others experience floods. With the global population increasing, the higher the pressure becomes on the available drinking water due to own consumption, more food production, meat consumption etc. Therefore, bold measures have to be taken. But what? And how? For these questions, I interviewed someone who is all into water since she started working at Aqua for All: Tabitha Gerrets. I had a couple of questions for her, and here are her answers to them.
Which problems do you see in developed and developing countries related to water?
Finances! In the Netherlands we pay too little for our drinking water. Water companies do not, or barely have, any finances for preventive maintenance and that is worrisome. In developing countries, it is the poor people that usually pay the highest price. They pay a lot more per m3 of drinking water than the rich and middle class in urban areas, where water is often subsidized. Moreover, poor people spend relatively a lot more on water than we do (around 10% of their income vs around 0,5% of ours).
Which kinds of solutions for both developed and developing countries would you propose?
In developed countries, a realistic price should be set on drinking water and heavy polluters should pay more for cleaning the water.
In developing countries, and especially in rural areas and slums, a bigger supply of qualitative and affordable ‘household water treatment options’ like water filters should be made available on the market, with different products, for different prices, for different tastes. Some filters can already be purchased for $ 15,- and they last for over two years. They enable all people, including poor people, to filter their own water, making them independent and self-reliant. Another suitable option, especially in slums, is kiosks: small shops, often connected to the piped system of a water company, selling clean water for an affordable price.
Which role do you see for different actors in the field?
Governments, whether in developed or developing countries, have the primary task to take care of good regulation, thereby creating an enabling environment for water companies and small and medium enterprises to do their jobs well. In addition, the government has the task to create a safety net for vulnerable groups. This is also applicable to developing countries, however, they often lack (financial) capacity to provide such social services. And until they do, they are and should continue to be supported by NGOs and governments of developed countries.
In the Netherlands, our drinking water is properly taken care of by water companies and they provide this for a fair price, actually a price a little too fair. If we want to continue to drink clean water from the tap, we should start paying a more realistic price. I (Tabitha Gerrets) pay for a single person household around €50,- per year for my drinking water. And I am more than willing to pay an extra ten euro’s or so for preventive and necessary maintenance to ensure the future provision of my drinking water.
In developing countries, especially slums and rural areas, the water supply heavily relies on the private sector. Their primary goal should be social (!) entrepreneurship, which is a lot more ambitious than mere Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). They have to take the poor market segment serious, developing and offering products and services that are truly aspired by these people. Poor people too (with an exception of the poorest) can and are more than willing to pay for water, providing the quality and service is good.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)
In the Netherlands, NGOs’ main task is to raise attention for global water problems, to make consumers and companies aware of the importance of safe drinking water, and facilitate them to show good stewardship over scarce resources like water.
In developing countries NGOs’ main task is to represent and protect the interests of vulnerable people and groups, by for instance supporting local governments and public institutions to do their jobs properly.
Quote ‘Poor people especially are willing to pay for a good product and good service, because they can spend their money only once!’ Tabitha Gerrets.
And what can you do to use your water wisely?
- Let’s value the available drinking water.
- Consume consciously. Do not use more than you need. For instance: you could put off the tap when brushing your teeth.
- In developed countries, drink water from the tap and try to not use any bottled water. It is unnecessary, unless you live in a country where the purification is not as good.
- Shower a little shorter than normal. 5 minutes will do and saves a lot of water too.
- Enjoy a vegetarian meal: meat production comes with a lot of water use and waste. For instance, beef costs around 4000 liter water to be on your plate.
- Capture rain water and use that to irrigate your garden plants.
- Donate and/or support an organization which supports the distribution and availability of clean drinking water in developing countries.
- Any other ideas? Share them here!
 Wikipedia, 2013.