The Water Poverty Index

Established in 2002 and uses 5 parameters:

  • Resources – the quantity of surface and groundwater per person, and its
  • Access – the time and distance involved in obtaining sufficient and safe
  • Capacity – how well the community manages its
  • Use – how economically water is used in the home and by agriculture and
  • Environment – ecological sustainability, green water with freshwater taken from rainwater stores in the soil as soil

Each of these is scored out of 20 to give a maximum of 100.


Lack of water hampers attempts to reduce poverty and encourage development. Improved water supply can increase food production, bring better health and provide better standards of wellbeing. Water wealth in developing countries brings cheap water, irrigation, energy and economic growth, commentators have dubbed water ‘the lubricant of development’.

case study: contrasting water extremes: canada vs ETHIOPIA

These two countries are at the opposite ends of the spectrum when looking at water and development.


Canada Ethiopia
·         Each household uses 800 litres per person per day

·         Water used for lawns, parks and swimming pools

·         Issues of rising water bills and leakages

·         Water poverty index = 78

·         Water use agricultural = 12%

·         Water use industrial = 69%

·         Water use domestic = 20%

·         GNI ($ per person) = 33,170

·         Population in 2000 (millions) = 30

·         Each person uses 1 litre per day

·         Water is fetched daily from a shared source

·         Issues of water shortages, pollution and risk of disease

·         Water poverty index = 45

·         Water use agricultural = 93%

·         Water use industrial = 6%

·         Water use domestic = 1%

·         GNI ($ per person) = 170

·         Population in 2000 (millions) = 62.9


Price of water

Health and wellbeing crisis

  • The MDG included a target to halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.
  • By 2005 only 12% of developing countries had achieved this.
  • In some LEDCs freshwater supplies are often not separated from waste products which leads to cholera and dysentery.
  • Freshwater supplies also ease pressures on girls as girls do not attend school during periods because they don’t have somewhere to clean.
  • The World Health Organisation states ‘every dollar spent on improving sanitation generates an average economic benefit of $7’.

Political crisis

  • There is no water shortage in the Central African Republic, but the population of 3.5 million is suffering water scarcity.
  • Fighting between government forces and rebels and attacks by local bandits forced thousands of people out of their villages to seek shelter in the Bush.
  • Many resorted to using stagnant pools and polluted streams and rivers.
  • Those who stayed in their villages found that their wells were not working because of faulty equipment of few trained technicians.
  • People suffering intestinal parasites, diarrhoea, guinea worm after drinking polluted water.
  • Households lost income, food and their children died.
  • In CAR, half the infant deaths were caused by poor sanitation.


Access crisis

  • There is a correlation between wealth and access to safe water.
  • A lack of investment in basic water infrastructure across the developing world means people and children die because of a lack of access to basic amenities.
  • Even when water is available, those who need it may not be able to access it:
  • In India, the coca cola company accused of extracting so much water to use in its bottling plant that agriculture in the area suffered and framers were forced to dig deep wells and buy bottled water.
  • In Bolivia, the prices charged by French owned water company were too high for local people, and 200,000 people chose to to be connected to the water supply. Health problems occurs, and families siphoned off water from the official supply illegally.
  • 40,000 people in Detroit were too poor to pay water bills and resorted to illegal tapping at night.
  • In developing countries, water is free in rural areas, but needs to be carried daily over long distances and is likely to get contaminated.
  • In largest cities, slum dwellers may have to buy water from private vendors whose prices often exceed $1 per m3.

Price of freshwater depends upon transport cost and level of demand, less subsidy.

  • Californian cities import water over hundreds of kilometres from the Colorado basin. Lifting water from depth and moving it over hills by pumps is energy expensive.
  • Water prices in Australia’s markets peaked at nearly 75 cents per m3 in December 2006, having increased twenty-fold in the year because of prolonged drought.
  • In India, water scarcity has prompted some farmers to profit by selling their abstracted water instead of using it for irrigation.
  • Water subsides make up 80% of the cost of providing municipal water in Delhi – subsides can be large
  • Farmers in California use roughly 1/5 of the state’s water yet pay 1 cent per m3 for it.

Water is usually more expensive in the developing world in absolute and relative terms)

Quality crisis

  • Economic development does not always go hand in hand with high water quality.
  • Indonesia’s drive for economic development and manufacturing cheap good to sell to the West has led to the pollution of water supplies.
  • The Citarum River in West Java, Indonesia carries the waste from 9 million people and hundreds of factories and farms.
  • Untreated river water used to irrigate surrounding paddy fields, wash clothes and to drink.
  • Poor people risk disease from the filthy water to salvage plastic, wood, glass and anything else to earn a few dollars.
  • 40% of the world’s food comes from irrigated land, irrigation leads to problems of salinity and water logging.