Beyond wells and hand pumps: The next phase in the fight for clean water

A woman conducts a water quality test with a field kit in the Medak district of Telangana, India. Photo by: Sanjit Das / Safe Water Network / CC BY-NC-ND

LONDON — New approaches to delivering clean water to the world’s poor are desperately needed to reach the call for universal and sustainable water and sanitation by 2030 — but the challenge is hard to meet in a sector not known for innovation.

Nearly 850 million people around the world are still without access to a reliable, quality source of drinking water, without which development experts say fundamental improvements in other sectors such as health and education cannot be achieved. 

Water supply has traditionally been the domain of engineers building large infrastructure projects in cities, and NGOs digging wells and installing hand pumps in rural areas. These efforts have been largely financed by government and development finance institutions who have tended to favor tried and tested, large-scale models, similar to the kinds of water utilities seen in developed nations.

Applied to the developing world, though, these models are failing, and most municipal utilities, with a few exceptions such as in the Philippines and Cambodia, are poorly run, failing to serve the poor or those living on the fringes of towns and cities. Studies show that 36 percent of rural water projects are nonfunctional at any given time. 

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About the author

  • Edwards sopie

    Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.