When I was little, I went to India for my Mamaji’s wedding. At that point, we still drank the water, although it was very the last time we did so. I got very sick and lost enough weight that my ribs were visible. In fact, I became so emaciated that I could tickle my bottom few ribs from the inside, much to the horror of my parents. To make things worse, it was hot in Amritsar that year, over 100 degrees, and we were in an old house without air conditioning.
Throughout it all, as the adored foreign child, I was coddled and comforted. It wasn’t that bad for me. Still, it gave me some compassion for those who have to drink water far worse, such as the 2 million children who die each year for want of proper water and sanitation.
The big policy debate over water privatization seems to have ground to a halt. In poor countries, governments do a lousy job of getting water to their people (maybe 30% of Indians have access to clean water), and while de facto privatization proceeds apace, formal privatization schemes seem to have done poorly enough to reduce earlier corporate enthusiasm.
Still, two of the more imaginative schemes I’ve seen in the past year have argued for extreme privatization, decentralizing the provision of clean water down to the sub-village, or even personal level.
For example, the Lifestraw is designed to give each person their own personal water purification system:
… a plastic tube with seven filters: graduated meshes with holes as fine as 6 microns (a human hair is 50 to 100 microns), followed by resin impregnated with iodine and another of activated carbon. It can be worn around the neck and lasts a year.
Lifestraw isn’t perfect, but it filters out at least 99.99 percent of many parasites and bacteria, the demons in most fatal cases of diarrhea. [Link]
The original Lifestraw was field tested amongst the earthquake refugees in Kashmir.
Although the idea is pretty cool, it has its detractors. Critics argue that there is no market for such a product – that at $3.50 (or possibly even $2), it is still multiple days work to pay for each person’s straw, and it still only lasts a year. They also argue that it doesn’t reduce the long distances people have to travel to get water, thus reducing its appeal, and that local water projects are more effective because of economies of scale [Link].