Zidell: Solutions for Safer Drinking Water Around the World

There is no silver bullet for safe drinking waterThe goal is enabling sustainable drinking water for 200 million people in the next 20 years

Steve Cole | Getty Images

Water has become a flashpoint issue around the world. It is integral to any discussion of the environment, world health, poverty, female empowerment and economic development.

Unsafe drinking water is the world’s largest cause of disease and death. The United Nations Development Program has stated that every $1 invested in water and sanitation produces $9 in healthcare cost reduction and economic development.

For the 1 billion people who live at the bottom of the economic pyramid, access to safe drinking water is the first rung on the ladder out of poverty.

Traditional “top down” technology products show promise in increasing the number of people in urban areas with safe drinking water. But a radically different approach is needed to bring sustainable safe drinking water to rural communities in developing nations, where the “technology” solution might be putting a padlock on the local well cover, and where little or no traditional “infrastructure” exists.


At Blue Planet Network, we focus on safe drinking water in rural areas of developing nations.

In Rural Areas:

  • the problem is supply
  • the technical solutions are simple but specific to the situation
  • sustainability is key, which means high-tech rarely works
  • the real work begins once the water system is implemented—through education, maintenance, and community organization
  • top-down solutions haven’t worked

Technology is a critical part of the solution, but it is not the solution itself. Technology must foster new approaches that build:

  • collaboration and peer review among the hundreds of grassroots and large water groups around the world—to identify great new ideas, wherever they come from, and eliminate rote repetition of programs with inherent flaws
  • transparency of project data, the successes and failures, to ensure accountability, increase trust, and speed investment in proven approaches
  • creativity and capacity building at all levels—fundraising, investment, implementation, monitoring, reporting—and among all groups and individuals working toward the common goal of sustainable safe drinking water for all.

At Blue Planet Network, our global online network combines the technology of the Internet, advanced mapping and analytics with the power of a “human infrastructure” to create a real time environment where all this can be achieved.

We have funded $1.5 million water and sanitation projects, benefitting 350,000 people. We support an additional $25+ million in water and sanitation projects. We partner with 66 expert groups, working in 22 countries, to share best practices, optimize funding and make extensive project results available to all.

Our contribution to the safe drinking water sector is to leverage information and technology in combination with the knowledge of our “human social network,” powerful combination of People, Process and Technology.

Our approach delivers high quality, cost-efficient, long-term water and sanitation projects, while building the capacity of all participants and solving the scale issue of managing the implementation of tens of thousands of projects across the developing world.

There is no one “silver bullet” for safe drinking water, but there is a common requirement to work together to ensure that after successful initial implementation projects are maintained and remain operational.

Only then will safe drinking water become available, village by village. Only then will children go to school, women take better care of their families and contribute to their community, and healthy people be able to make substantial contributions to the economic development of their communities.

I come to the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe, Calif. this week wanting to share our thinking, learn about other approaches that can make our impact stronger, and find partners interested in working closely with us to achieve our aggressive goal of enabling sustainable safe drinking water for 200 million people in the next 20 years. I look forward to having our model challenged, new technologies suggested and new potential alliances identified.

If you're attending Techonomy, come to our water panel on Thursday, August 5th at 11:30am, or find me in the halls. Wherever we are is always only the beginning of where we need to go.

Industrialist, philanthropist and environmentalist, Jin Zidell has been a principal in a number of businesses including scrap metal processing, steel forging/fabrication, film and television production, fish farming, real estate development and software development and marketing. He is the founder of Blue Planet Network.