11 October 2012

Safe vs Improved Water in South Asia

I am in Nepal at the South Asia Regional Conference on Rural Water Supply and Sanitation. Yesterday I gave a brief presentation on the AguaClara program. My presentation was late in the afternoon and everyone was tired from too many presentations. I knew that I needed to mix it up and get some audience participation. So I first asked the delegates if they knew the difference between safe water and improved water. About 10 of the 140 participants said that they knew the distinction. I found it interesting that this confusion that was created in the Millennium Development Goals runs so deep that government officials charged with providing water and sanitation in their respective countries don't know this distinction. All of my students learn that "improved" water includes dirty river water that comes out of a pipe in your house. "Improved" water is about access to water, but does not include any quality requirements.

I then asked the delegates to stand if they drink the tap water from their tap. Seven people stood up. As I looked at who was standing up I realized that most of the people who were standing weren't from South Asia. So I asked everyone who wasn't from South Asia to sit down. The result? Two people remained standing, one from Bangladesh and one from Afghanistan. Given that there are 1.6 billion people living in South Asia, this poll suggests that only a tiny fraction of those 1.6 billion have access to safe drinking water.

At the end of my presentation there were many very good questions and a clear expression of interest in the AguaClara technologies by delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Bhutan. Next step is to create a plan for how to roll out the AguaClara technologies in South Asia.

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