To get a drink of water or take a shower, you probably just turn a tap. But for hundreds of millions of people worldwide, accessing safe water is a daily struggle.
Around 650 million people worldwide still do not have access to clean water, according to a new WaterAid report. That’s one in 10 people. What’s worse, water costs more for people in poverty than for the wealthy or middle-class.
“It’s often assumed that the poorest people in the world don’t have formal water supplies because they can’t afford the bills,” Sarina Prabasi, WaterAid America chief executive, said in a news release. “In fact, this report shows that the poorest are not only paying — they’re paying far more than most anyone else.”
In developed countries, the standard water bill is as low as 0.1 percent of the income of a minimum-wage earner, according to the report. On the other hand, a person living in poverty in Madagascar can spend up to 45 percent of their daily income on water, just to get the minimum recommended amount to meet their needs.
“Clean, affordable drinking water is not a privilege: it’s a fundamental human right.”
This happens because people in impoverished communities don’t always have access to a government-subsidized water source, and instead may be reliant on dirty water from ponds and rivers, or clean water from costly local vendors.
“Clean, affordable drinking water is not a privilege: it’s a fundamental human right,” Prabasi said.
This is how seven people from around the world get the water they need to live — and the price they pay for it:
1. Elizabeth In Papua New Guinea Spends More Than 50 Percent Of Her Income On Water
“Sometimes we find it hard to get water, but we are lucky to have a well,” Elizabeth said to WaterAid. Her family lives in a settlement, outside the city’s utility service boundaries and away from existing water mains or sewage pipes. She uses the nearby well for bathing and washing clothes, but it’s not safe to drink. For drinking and cooking, she needs to buy water from a water delivery service that costs more than half of her daily income from the snack stall she runs.
Papua New Guinea is the worst country in the world when it comes to the percentage of people without access to safe water. Around 4.5 million people — 60 percent of the country’s population — have no safe water supply. The cost of just 50 liters of water — the minimum WHO-recommended amount to meet basic needs — can eat up to 54 percent of a poor person’s salary.
2. In Ethiopia, Water Costs 15 Percent Of A Typical Poor Person’s Salary
“Water comes and sometimes stays on for up to three days, other times it will go off by the end of the day,” Biruktawit said to WaterAid. “The most you can store is 200-300 liters of water in a barrel. But with three children, that won’t last a week.”
One in three people in Ethiopia does not have access to safe water. Biruktawit often has to buy her water from vendors at a high price. The water vendors are usually young people struggling to get by themselves by buying water from the utility and then carrying and reselling it to households that need it.
3. Jennifer In Zambia Spends 37 Percent Of Her Income On Water
“We spend $0.54 per drum [of water], and here at home we use a minimum of two drums,” Jennifer said in the report. “We end up spending $1.08 per day for water.”
Jennifer’s average daily income is $2.94. Meeting her family’s water needs — with seven children and a husband — takes up more than a third of their money. Jennifer, like all of her neighbors, doesn’t have access to a proper water supply. She has to buy water from vendors in a wealthier suburb, where people drill boreholes on their property and then sell containers of water to less affluent people, like Jennifer.
4. In India, Water Costs 17 Percent Of A Typical Poor Person’s Salary
In Kanpur, India, the two girls pictured here wait in line to collect safe water at a tap point. Some communities with insufficient or poor quality water have to fall back on a single or distant source of water, which can lead to disputes and increased discrimination against the primary water fetchers: women and girls.
India is the worst country in the world when it comes to the raw number of people without safe water: more than 75 million people don’t have access to safe water.
5. Amelia In Mozambique Spends 36 Percent Of Her Salary On Water
“I need 14 jerrycans of [water] every day for cooking, washing, bathing for the whole family and other needs,” Amelia said to WaterAid. “We do not have a water source here in the neighborhood. We have to resort to taps of some people who sell water. It’s too much money. I have no formal work, I sell bread. Life is very difficult here. Today, I already paid 35 meticais (about $0.72) to have water.”
Amelia is a mother of three, and her family lives on $2.01 a day. The only way she can obtain water is from illegal vendors. In Mozambique, almost one in two people live without access to safe water.
6. In Ghana Pays, Water Costs 25 Percent Of A Typical Poor Person’s Salary
Doris Oparebia lives in a shack next to a hotel construction site. She cooks and sells meals to construction workers, making $2.55 a day. She doesn’t have access to a piped water supply, so has to rely on a water truck’s daily deliveries. She pays 50 times more for water than a middle-class household with piped water.
In Ghana, 3 million people live without safe water access, and pay up to 25 percent of a poor person’s salary to meet their basic water needs.
7. In Burkina Faso, Water Costs Almost 10 Percent Of A Typical Poor Person’s Salary
“Since yesterday I haven’t had water in my house,” Adama said in the report. “Yesterday, I got some from a friend to drink and wash myself. Since this morning, there’s been a water cut at the government fountains. How can you be obliged to beg for water like this? Water is a vital need.”
Adama lives on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, where he has no safe water supply and has to buy water from tap stands. In Burkina Faso, almost one in five people lives without safe water access.