New Report Shows World’s Poorest People are Forced to Spend the Most on Water

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A new WaterAid briefing released today on World Water Day identifies the most difficult places in the world for people to get clean water, and reveals how people living in extreme poverty are often forced to spend a bigger percentage of their income on water than anyone else in the world.

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It’s often assumed that the poorest people in the world don’t have formal water supplies because they can’t afford the bills. In fact, this report shows that the poorest are not only paying—they’re paying far more than most anyone else.

Topping the list of 10 worst countries for household access to clean water is the Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea—poor, rural, and facing seas and extreme weather from climate change. Poor families living in Papua New Guinea have no choice but to spend more than half their meager income on this basic essential.

'Water: At What Cost? The State of the World’s Water' reveals that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1% of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while, in a country like Madagascar, a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45% of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water points.

Worldwide, some 650 million people still do not have access to clean water and more than 2.3 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation, with devastating results.

Some 315,000 children under the age of five die each year of diarrheal diseases related to the lack of these basic rights. Fifty percent of malnutrition cases are linked to chronic diarrhea caused by lack of clean water, good sanitation and good hygiene including handwashing with soap.

The report ranks nations based on rates of household access to water, and on highest populations without access to water. It also includes a list of the countries which have improved most in the last 15 years.

Among the main findings:

  • Papua New Guinea, Equatorial Guinea and Angola are the nations in the world with the lowest percentage of households with access to clean water.
  • In Papua New Guinea, an average person living in poverty will spend 54% of their salary to access the World Health Organization-recommended minimum of 50 water liters per day to meet basic needs. The average use in the US is about 370 liters per person, per day.
  • India, China and Nigeria have the highest numbers of people waiting for access to clean water.
  • Cambodia, Mali, Laos and Ethiopia have made more progress than any other nations on improving access to water for their populations.
  • Despite much progress, the report finds that inequalities persist even in nations that have made great strides, with the poorest people often paying the highest percentages of their income on water.
  • There remain 16 countries in the world where 40% or more of their population does not have access to clean water – due to lack of government prioritization, lack of dedicated funding, shortages in human resources and/or the exacerbating effects of climate change on water availability and quality combined.

Sarina Prabasi, WaterAid America Chief Executive, said:

“At a time when water challenges are all around us, WaterAid’s new report offers striking insight into widely held misconceptions about people who are living in extreme poverty. It’s often assumed that the poorest people in the world don’t have formal water supplies because they can’t afford the bills. In fact, this report shows that the poorest are not only paying—they’re paying far more than most anyone else.”

“Clean, affordable drinking water is not a privilege: it’s a fundamental human right. This World Water Day, let’s celebrate the unprecedented progress that’s been made in helping more people than ever before gain access to clean water. But let’s also double down on our efforts so that everyone everywhere can exercise their basic right to clean water by the year 2030.”

On this World Water Day, WaterAid commends the US Congress for its continual focus on water, sanitation and hygiene, including increased funding to support these efforts year after year. WaterAid is urging the US to continue this trend for fiscal year 2017, and to focus funding on the poorest of the poor, pursuant to the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act, which passed Congress unanimously in December 2014.

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A link to the full report can be found at:

To learn more about the 2016 #Blue4Water World Water Day campaign that WaterAid is a part of, see:

About WaterAid

WaterAid is the #1 ranked international non-profit dedicated to helping the people living in the world’s poorest communities gain access to safe water, toilets and hygiene. WaterAid has programs and influence in 37 countries across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific region. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 23 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 21 million people with toilets and sanitation.

Connect with WaterAid at and @WaterAidAmerica, or find out more at

  • Around 315,000 children die each year from diarrheal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. That’s nearly 900 children each day, or one child every two minutes.
  • Over 650 million people (around 1 in 10) do not have access to clean water
  • One in 3 people (over 2.3 billion) live without access to safe and sanitary toilets
  • For every $1 invested in water and sanitation, an average of more than $4 is returned in increased productivity

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Alanna Imbach