Water for the world

August 2005

Tom Standage, technology editor of The Economist, writes in the New York Times op-ed pages on the lack of difference between bottled and tap water.

He also notes that for less than one fourth of the global annual spending on bottled water, clean water and adequate sanitation could be provided for everyone on earth. Standage therefore recommends that instead of buying bottled water, people instead donate the money to water charities to achieve this goal.

Bottled water does have one thing going for it, however. It’s price and distribution is much less regulated than municipal water systems, which tend to heavily subsidize water, making it available for free or very nearly free regardless of what has to be done to get it to the tap. The amount of water that gets wasted would drop dramatically if tap water prices actually reflected the costs of the water.

Standage also notes that much of the time the only safe water in the developing world is bottled water. This would indicate that the first world’s demand for bottled water (a “lifestyle choice”) makes it harder to purchase for those in the developing world, since the increased demand drives up the price. However, it is this very demand that makes it possible for bottled water companies to exist in the first place, and that provides a driving force for those companies to continually improve the methods they use to obtain and purify the water.