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Clean water is safe enough to be consumed by humans or used with low risk of immediate or long term harm. The clean water problem is that of quantity (access), quality, cost, and system maintenance.

Size/Magnitude of Problem

Poor water and sanitation lead to suboptimal health conditions (e.g. infections, physical disorders, diarrhea, malnutrition) and even death. Such conditions places excessive burden on those affected as well as those around them. Additionally, water collection practices, which disproportionately affect women and girls, waste time and resources that could be spent on improving livelihoods. The estimated annual global economic loss due to water and sanitation-related issues is $260 billion.i

  • 748 million people – 90% living in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia (43% in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 47% in Asia) – still use unimproved drinking water sources; 82% live in rural areas.ii
  • 842,000 people die each year from water-related diseases. 42% of these are children under five.iii
  • In Africa alone, 40 billion hours are spent every year walking for water.iv
Desired Equilibrium

Universal, equitable access to clean water across urban and rural areas worldwide, supplied by utilities and service providers with adequate capacity to deliver reliable and sustainable service. Clean drinking water allows the poor to lead healthier lives and devote previously lost time to productive activities that improve their livelihoods.

Ways Skoll social entrepreneurs are addressing the issue:
  • Working directly with utilities and service providers to improve the quality, quantity, and cost of service (Water for People, WSUP)
  • Securing financing from governments, multilaterals, and private sector sources to implement and sustain services (Gram Vikas,, Water for People, WSUP)
  • Organizing members in a community to pool resources to fund and implement community-wide solutions (Gram Vikas, SDI)
  • Tracking the use and capacity of water and sanitation systems to inform operations and maintenance (Water for People)

i WaterAid (link)
ii World Health Organization (link)
iii World Health Organization (link)
iv Charity:water (link)

Critical Geographies
Access to Piped Water

As defined by SPI (< 8% of population)
Central African Republic, Nigeria, Liberia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Togo, Guinea-Bissau, Chad, Burundi, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Burkina Faso

Rural Access to Improved Water Source

As defined by SPI (< 40% of rural population)
Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Papua New Guinea, Turkmenistan, Madagascar, Mozambique, Madagascar