Spreading the Water Wealth: Fast Facts on Water and Poverty

The Grim Statistics of Water

Annual child deaths due to dirty water and poor sanitation and hygiene: 2.2 million

Number of people without easy access to safe water: 1.1 billion (85% rural)

Number of people without easy access to decent sanitation: 2.4 billion (78% rural)

Number of undernourished people: 842 million (75% rural)

Number of people living on less than two dollars a day: 2.7 billion (75% rural)

Number of people displaced by dams: 40–80 million

Percent of world's food grown on rain–fed lands: 60–70%

The Good News: Comparative Costs of Solutions

Annual cost of bringing 100 million small farming families out of extreme poverty by 2015 with low–cost water technologies: $2 billion

As percentage of annual investment in large dams in developing countries the 1990s: <10%

Average cost of drinking water, per person, from community–built rainwater harvesting schemes in Alwar, India: $2

Estimated cost for drinking water, per person, from the notorious Sardar Sarovar dam project: $200

Cost of conventional irrigation in Africa: $5,000–$25,000 per hectare (ha)

Cost of irrigation through Sardar Sarovar dam and canals (India): $3,800/ha

Cost of treadle pumps and wells: $117/ha (India/Bangladesh); $233/ha (Africa)

Cost of Nepal drip irrigation kits: $250/ha

Energy and the Poor

Number of people without electricity in their homes: 1.6 billion (80% rural)

Number of people relying on traditional biomass fuels for cooking and heating: 2.4 billion

Number of people killed annually from health problems associated with open–fire cooking: 2 million

Percent of total energy consumption used for domestic cooking in sub–Saharan Africa: 60%

Cost of an improved cookstove in China (not subsidized): $10–12

Estimated number of such stoves distributed in China by 2000: 180 million

Number of rural families worldwide using clean biogas digesters to convert manure into cooking/heating gas: 16 million

Percent of South Africa's urban energy use that could be offset by solar water heating: 18%


  • World Resources 2005: The Wealth of the Poor – Managing Ecosystems to Fight Poverty; World Population Data Sheet 2005
  • WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme
  • FAO "Counting the hungry: latest estimates"
  • www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/diseases/schisto/en/
  • FAO & CIFOR (2005) Forests and floods
  • World Commission on Dams (2000) Dams and Development
  • REN21 Renewable Energy Policy Network (2005) "Energy for Development"
  • Health, dignity, and development: what will it take?, UN Millennium Project Task Force on Water and Sanitation, 2005
  • Frausto, K. (2000) "Developing Irrigation Options for Small Farmers," contributing paper to WCD Thematic Review of Irrigation Options
  • McCully, P. (2002) "Water–Harvesting in India Transforms Lives," World Rivers Review, December
  • InterAcademy Council (2004) Realizing the Promise and Potential of African Agriculture