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🗣️ The Human Right to Water

(don't) Waste Water!

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Antoine Walter
Guest: David Lloyd Owen | Managing Director | Envisager
Category: 🗣️ Opinion

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[8:06] “The Sustainable Development Goal 6 [aims] for universal access to safe water and safe sanitation by 2030. I think the reasonable target for SDG 6 by 2030 would be that we have the capacity to start working on delivering it. It turns out […] that a large number of countries still don't even have an accepted definition of what safe water is, let alone a program to install it. And various companies are still committing themselves just to installing basic or improved water, which is not what this is all about. Basic or improved water has no definition of safety, freedom from contamination, freedom from bacteria, lead, arsenic, and so on and so forth. So you might get water coming out of your tap, but I wouldn't recommend you drink it.”

[9:04] “It's already been admitted that progress towards SDG 6 is running at a quarter of the level required. So the biggest challenge in SDG 6 is the personnel capacity and the staff on the ground in each country to be able to deliver the project. And then the financial capacity, the funding required to deliver the project. So really, I believe the next few years is first of all, people admitting that they have not taken the process seriously until now. And don't forget this goes back to programs being run in 1980. And secondly, how are they going to start addressing those gaps?”

[14:01] “With climate change and with COVID, you have to understand that every government at the moment has to make hard decisions. And water is always going to be down on the agenda politically. For reasons […] I can rationalize, but I cannot comprehend. Water is not politically important, […] because it's taken for granted. And one of the problems in particular is you get governments which don't like to charge for water. […] Secondly, there are a number of governments where water is a very useful thing to control and employs a lot of people, it has a lot of influence […]. So it's something that they like just to keep to themselves. And finally, I fear the biggest challenge we have is the sheer scale of incomprehension about water.”

[15:03] “When you look at telephones, electricity, things like this, you can go and order a handbook, […] which will give you a systematic breakdown globally about these services. Some private entrepreneurs have tried to do something like that for water. But in reality, the quality of the data wouldn't allow it. For me, one of the true problems […] [is that] water [is] an uncooperative commodity. Now, this means that people are very reluctant to charge the appropriate price for water to reflect its worth. And so water is systemically undervalued. And because it's not seen to be correctly valued, the political will to fund it correctly is quite difficult to mobilize. The other particular problem that makes water unique is the fact that because of this low cost, it means that it's economically very difficult normally to justify transferring water from one river basin to another. That means that every river basin is isolated. And the sector is far far more fragmented [than the electricity sector]. […] So the entire nature of water makes it particularly challenging for people to take it seriously and to consider the funding seriously.”

[18:45] “Oddly enough, for the first time ever, the World Health Organization started to consider what actually affordability means. And a study came out about a couple of months ago, trying to define affordability […]. And rarely, it actually boils down to two numbers one percentage of household income and two time. So those without access to water, you have to factor in the time they would gain from having a tap within their household. And generally speaking, 1-3% is the normal bandwidth for affordability. But […]  you also have to go back and take a look at the poorest 20% and there perhaps 5% of household income should be the limit of affordability.”

[20:52] “One of the problems we have in water is engaging customers, engaging the public, and making them trust their water. So even in some extremely well run utilities, you have large numbers of people still treating their water at home, or boiling it […]. But I have been told that one of the drivers for that is people think, our water is so cheap, so it can't be clean. You take the other extreme there in Denmark, which is the most expensive water in the world, you will find there, first of all, because it's expensive, it's used very carefully, it's treated to an exceptional standard, even the brain water, which runs into a collection network, goes through full tertiary treatment, before it's reintroduced back into natural environment. And because they are paying for everything up front in their tariffs, people know this is expensive, but we support it, because we are getting a service which we explicitly trust. And also, because there's a very high degree of disclosure in Denmark. Every single utility gives all these performance metrics about [water].”

[23:37] “The human right to water [has been tried to modify and hijacked by] a lot of campaigners […] by saying the human right to free water. And there's still a very powerful, well funded aggressive lobby, which demands that people should get their water for nothing, which A) is inherently absurd and B) free water, free dysentery, free cholera. We can throw lots of things in with that free water if you want, but I wouldn't want it.”

[27:47] “There are certain countries where politicians have realized, they face existential challenges when it comes to water. So Israel, they realized […] we are building this country in an extremely arid area. And so Israel now leads the world, for example, on water reuse. Singapore, when it became independent from Malaysia in 1965, the Malaysian Prime Minister said, if you step out of line with us on foreign policy, or so on and so forth, we reserve the right to turn the tap off, because at that time, 70-80% of Singapore's water came across from Malaysia in a big pipe. Singapore's aim now is by 2060, when its current contract with Malaysia runs out, is to be completely self-sufficient in water.”

[31:34] “More money is spent now on bottled water in California than on tap water. And of course, one of the strange things is bottled water, for example in America, is not subject to regulation. So if you want to get sick or drink bottled water, if you want to help the water, have a properly funded, properly managed utility. The warning there is that if utilities are unable to deliver water, which people trust, then people will just use alternative resources. And ultimately, you start to create a negative spiral. Because then if that means they're spending their money on other sources of water, then there's still less funding available to the utility.”

Rating: 💧💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify (Original Title: "3 Paths to Reach SDG 6 by 2050: All Our Hopes are on #3!")
🕰️ 1 hr 4 min | 🗓️ 08/31/2021
✅ Time saved: 1 hr 2 min

Additional Links:
Global Water Intelligence
Book: “Global Water Funding” (David Lloyd Owen, 2020)