By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.  Not many will argue against the importance of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal target 6.1.  But there is an irony underlying this target: market trends indicate that even as public drinking water supplies improve in the developing world, consumers will spend more on bottled water and private water treatment because they don’t trust the water that does come out of their taps.

A commentary last year in Global Water Intelligence claimed that, “total spending on water utilities is growing at 3.5% per year, while total spending on bottled water, point-of-use water systems and tanker supply is growing at 9%.  Spending on private domestic solutions to water is likely to exceed total utility spending by 2030.”

This lack of public trust has important consequences:

  • -It decreases support for water tariffs and taxes, which are required to achieve target 6.1.
  • -It increases the amount that families spend to obtain water that they believe is safe.

 

Clearly, collecting and sharing water quality information is critical for building consumer trust and for promoting public services.  Information is also essential for holding water suppliers accountable.  In most countries, water quality testing is the law: suppliers (public and private) are required to monitor parameters, generally specified in national standards, and report their results to the government.

But water suppliers often don’t do enough testing because:

  • -Supplying water is a marginal business – most providers require government and/or donor inputs, particularly to serve low-income areas.
  • -Resource constrained suppliers will not spend money on regular testing because they are not penalized for breaking the law – poor enforcement contributes to low motivation.

 

These are systemic barriers to better testing: Aquaya’s Monitoring for Safe Water research shows that until these barriers are removed, new programs and innovations, including those listed below, will only have short-term impacts:

  • -Project-based funding for laboratories, supplies, and training
  • -New technologies (water testing kits, mobile phones, data platforms)
  • -New water testing business models including private services

 

To address the systemic barriers to water quality data collection, Aquaya’s next goals for Monitoring for Safe Water are to design and evaluate interventions that are focused on increasing both resources and motivation for testing.

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