World Economy

Investing in clean water is a great way for governments to get 'bang for buck,' says CEO

Key Points
  • Government investment into clean water has spillover effects into other areas of the economy, according to the chief executive of non-profit organization charity: water.
  • Local healthcare, incomes, and education will benefit, he says.
  • Despite these advantages, governments still aren't investing enough in water, an issue he says is "frustrating."
An Indian child carries an empty water bucket at Shakar Pada village, on the outskirts of Mumbai, on June 10, 2019.
Punit Paranjpe | AFP | Getty Images

Governments need to do more to invest in clean water, the chief executive of a non-profit organization urged, with unsafe drinking water posing a risk to populations.

More investment will also lead to economic advantages, pointed out Scott Harrison, chief executive officer and founder at charity: water.

"We're arguing for higher government spending on water because it provides health, better education, more income," he said Tuesday.

"You talk about bang for buck, water is a great way to get that," Harrison added.

We're seeing a lot of governments certainly not doing enough, not spending enough money on water. It's so frustrating for us sometimes.
Scott Harrison
Founder of charity: water

Improved access to clean water means people are less likely to fall ill from water-transmitted diseases, like diarrhea.

In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that unsafe drinking water contributes to 485,000 deaths from diarrhea each year. Diarrhea is the most common disease associated with contaminated food and water.

These health benefits extend to personal livelihoods and children's education as well.

With access to safe and clean water, people spend less on medical bills and can stay in employment for longer periods, said the WHO.

Nearly 570 million children worldwide have limited or no access to drinking water in their schools, according to a 2018 report by the United Nations Children's Fund and the WHO. That translates to 19% of schools worldwide.

Children may not perform "at their very best" if they are not properly hydrated in school, Rick Johnston, the World Health Organization's technical officer, told Global Citizen in 2018.

Given these benefits, it seems natural for governments to invest in clean water, in order to reap more economic and social advantages. However, this isn't always the case, Harrison notes.

There's still 'extreme need' for clean water in rural areas
There's still 'extreme need' for clean water in rural areas

"We're seeing a lot of governments certainly not doing enough, not spending enough money on water. It's so frustrating for us sometimes," said Harrison.

So his charity is plugging this gap by bringing clean drinking water to developing nations.

Since 2006, charity: water has brought clean water to approximately 9.6 million people across 27 countries, using 13 different types of technology. That's because there's no "one size fits all solution to the water crisis," Harrison said.

While 90% of the world's population had access to a basic drinking water source in 2017, 785 million people still lack this basic facility. Worldwide, 144 million people are still dependent on surface water, which can be easily polluted by hazardous substances, according to WHO statistics.