Bridging Innovation Gaps For Clean Water Around The World

By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – October 14, 2013 – Comment

When you think of luxury, what comes to mind? Maybe a Mercedes Benz, some filet mignon, and perhaps a bottle of Dom Pérignon too. I’d be willing to bet that water doesn’t pop up when you think of luxury, but that’s exactly what it is to millions of people all over the world. Clean, safe, drinkable water is taken almost for granted in developed countries, up there with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

However, that is not the reality for large regions across the globe. I came across this piece in the New York Times, and once again I was able to reflect on just how lucky we are to live in a country with infrastructure that supports clean and accessible drinking water, whether that infrastructure is in major need of repair or not. As highlighted in the article, when you look back on the work done around the globe in the 1960s & 1970s, it is clear that while many individuals and groups had their hearts in the right place, large-scale development is not for amateurs. The world is now dotted with broken wells and pumps, and that’s billions of dollars down the drain.  

With that being said, it’s not all doom and gloom for these affected regions. The future is looking bright thanks to the effort of charities that are working smarter and learning from the past. Water for People and Water.org are some of the organizations that are using some radical new ideas to bring clean water to people who desperately need it. 

One of those ideas takes advantage of the relatively new concept of microfinance, which provides small amounts of money at low interest to individuals in developing worlds. Water.org is using this concept to pioneer WaterCredit, a program that is using philanthropy to stimulate microfinance organizations. By doing this, they are helping these organizations get into the business of making water and sanitation loans.

With these microloans, many households and communities are finally able to install water connections, build wells, and begin to enjoy some semblance of the water infrastructure that we do. 150,500 loans have been made to date, which adds up to $28 million going to water access and sanitation. Because of the small amounts of each loan, coupled with the low interest, 98 percent of these loans have been repaid.

Water for People provides technical and managerial assistance to communities to establish locally owned water companies so that there is a long-term sustainable business to provide vital water services.  Empowering local organization transforms people’s lives by improving health and economic productivity to end the cycle of poverty.

This type of outside the box thinking is exactly what we need to keep making strides in water accessibility throughout the world. While I usually focus on innovations in technology, these financial and managerial innovations are just as important. Organizations like Water for People and Water.org and many others are helping bridge the innovation gap with solutions that address the needs of future generations while making a difference today.   Maybe we need to start rethinking how water is funded and managed in the U.S. to improve economic productivity and quality of life.