The global risks of increasing reliance on bottled water
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The global risks of increasing reliance on bottled water

Abstract/Summary: The rapid growth of bottled water use in low- and middle-income countries, and its normalization as a daily source of drinking water, does not provide a pathway to universal access. Generous and sustained investment in centralized and community utilities remains the most viable means for achieving safe water access for allWe recommend that the international development community and LMIC governments accept that full-cost recovery from a low-income customer base is not realistic, and that they actively invest in regulated utilities or community-scale models as the most sustainable options for delivering universal safe water access. This will take time, of course. Consumer confidence in the safety of utility supplied water should be fortified along the way with water quality reports and, perhaps, ‘marketing’ messages. These recommendations are not new, but they bear repeating in an era of explosive growth in, and de facto normalization of, market-driven approaches to ‘safe water for all’. In the meantime, non-tap treatment options that are known to be effective and affordable, but that may achieve only partial uptake, should be subsidized and more aggressively promoted. If, on the other hand, governments and development agencies allow the bottled water sector to continue meeting the rising demand for safe water in LMICs, then access will indeed expand by 2030, but it will not be reliably safe or universally affordable. The SDG for drinking water is a public commitment, and history is clear: public commitments need public investment.

The global risks of increasing reliance on bottled water

Authors:  Alasdair Cohen and Isha Ray

Publication Year:  2018  |  Journal / Publisher:  Nature Sustainability

JOURNAL PUBLICATION

Abstract/Summary: The rapid growth of bottled water use in low- and middle-income countries, and its normalization as a daily source of drinking water, does not provide a pathway to universal access. Generous and sustained investment in centralized and community utilities remains the most viable means for achieving safe water access for allWe recommend that the international development community and LMIC governments accept that full-cost recovery from a low-income customer base is not realistic, and that they actively invest in regulated utilities or community-scale models as the most sustainable options for delivering universal safe water access. This will take time, of course. Consumer confidence in the safety of utility supplied water should be fortified along the way with water quality reports and, perhaps, ‘marketing’ messages. These recommendations are not new, but they bear repeating in an era of explosive growth in, and de facto normalization of, market-driven approaches to ‘safe water for all’. In the meantime, non-tap treatment options that are known to be effective and affordable, but that may achieve only partial uptake, should be subsidized and more aggressively promoted. If, on the other hand, governments and development agencies allow the bottled water sector to continue meeting the rising demand for safe water in LMICs, then access will indeed expand by 2030, but it will not be reliably safe or universally affordable. The SDG for drinking water is a public commitment, and history is clear: public commitments need public investment.

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