785 Millions Still Deprived of Access to Safe Drinking Water

785 Millions Still Deprived of Access to Safe Drinking Water

Discover the importance of safe & clean drinking water and the devastating consequences of its contaminated water on human survival. Learn about the alarming statistics of 785 million people worldwide who lack access to safe drinking water.

As of 2021, 785 million people do not have access to basic drinking water services i.e. 1 in 10 people, including the 144 million who drink untreated surface water.

This image apprises us about the future of the world in the coming years. How the world is running out of clean water.

Public Health Hazards Due to Unsafe Drinking Water

Mere access is not enough, the quality of water matters the most. There is a huge gap in providing basic drinking water services. Consumption of contaminated water leads to the transmission of hazardous diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and many more.

Diarrhea is the most widely known hazardous disease which is transmitted by consumption of contaminated water. Consumption of contaminated water causes 485 000 diarrheic deaths every year. In 2017, around 220 million people were in need of preventive treatment for schistosomiasis – a chronic disease caused by parasitic worms which are transmitted through the consumption of infected water.


Source: World Data

Contaminated drinking water not only leads to the transmission of fatal diseases but also leads to death. Around 1.23 million people died as a result of the consumption of unsafe water in 2017 (Figure- 1).

Unsafe water has been ranked 19th, surpassing drug usage and poor sanitation to become one of the biggest causes and risk factors for deaths around the world.

Income is a Major Factor in Determining the Level of Access to Clean Water

Income is an important criteria to determine the level of access to improved water sources.

From 1990 to 2015 there was no change in the access to improved water sources among the high-income share of the population. The high-income group still enjoys 100% access to these sources. While access for the low-income share of the population was around 46% in 1990 and it rose to 66% in 2015 (Figure- 2).

Figure- 2

Source: World data

The Disparity Between Developed and Developing Countries in Terms of Access to Improved Drinking Water Sources

In 2017, 90% of the world population had access to improved water sources. This number is increasing day by day due to the enhancement of improved drinking water technologies which results in water free from contamination.

Figure- 3

Source: World data

The share of the population with access to improved drinking water has not changed in the United Kingdom as people were already enjoying 100% access to these sources. In countries like India, Brazil, and Ireland the situation is getting better. In Kenya, the situation has improved a lot over the past 25 years. The access to improved water sources rose from 43% in 1990 to 63% in 2015. (Figure- 3)

The share of the population with access to improved drinking sources across the world rose from 76% in 1990 to 91% in 2015. Over the past 25 years, the number of people with access to improved drinking water sources increased by 107 million every year on average. On an everyday basis, 290,000 people gained access to drinking water. (Figure- 4)

Figure- 4

Source: World Data

Rural Households Often Lack Access To Drinking Water

Almost half of the population in Asia and Africa still live in rural areas and belong to the low-income group. Poor families in rural communities are most at risk of being left behind.

Figure- 5

All the countries lie above the line of parity ( if a country lies along this line then the share of the urban and rural population is the same (For example- Israel)) with very few exceptions ( notably- Bangladesh). In Ethiopia, the share of the urban population that has access to safely managed drinking water was around 39% while for rural it was around 4%. In Uganda, the share of the urban population was around 18% and for the rural, it was around 4%. The share of the population having access to safely managed drinking water is more inclined towards urban areas than rural areas (Figure- 5).

Number of People Who Don’t Have Access to Improved Drinking Water Sources by Region

In 1990, almost 42% of those who didn’t have access to improved drinking water sources were from East Asia & the Pacific. By 2015, this number had fallen to 20%. In the Middle East & North Africa, around 1.17 billion didn’t have access to improved drinking water sources in 1990. This number had fallen to 600 million in 2015 due to the economic growth in the Middle East & North Africa (Figure- 6)

Figure- 6

The percentage of people without access to improved drinking water sources has fallen across all the regions over the past 25 years, with the exception of Sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2015, the access to improved water sources remained lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa, where rates ranged from 40% to 80% of households. The number of Sub-Saharan Africans without access to drinking water sources increased from 271 million in 1990 to 326 million in 2015.

This unavailability of access to drinking water in Sub-Saharan Africa can be attributed to economic scarcity, rapid population growth, and climate change.

Low-Cost Solutions for Improving Access to Clean Drinking Water

1. Boiling 

The simplest and the cheapest method to purify water is to boil it for a good amount of time. Boiling at high temperatures causes the bacteria and virus to dissipate, removing all the impurities from the water and then straining it through a microporous sieve making water fit for drinking.

2. Implementing Rainwater Harvesting

Accumulating rainwater from surfaces on which it falls and subsequently storing it is a practice that has been carried out by humans for centuries.

It is a useful way of reducing the reliance on municipal water supply systems and providing water to remote rural areas that may not be connected to the conventional water supply.

3. Filtration of Water

This method uses chemical and physical processes to purify water and make it safe for drinking purposes. Filtration eliminates both large compounds and small, and dangerous contaminants that cause diseases with a simple and quick filtration process.

Since filtration does not deplete all the mineral salts, water that has been filtered is considered healthier compared to water purified using other methods. The factor that makes filtration less costly is that it does not require a lot of energy as compared to the energy needed in reverse osmosis and distillation.

4. Chlorination

a) Using Chlorine Tablets

Chlorine being a disinfectant makes the water fit for drinking purposes. The use of chlorine tablets is one of the cheapest ways to improve the quality of water.


Electrochlorination is a highly effective and economical technique for disinfecting water. Unsurprisingly,  it is used all over the world, at all scales, from personal electrochlorination units in remote locations to huge industrial plants treating potable water for an entire city.

This image apprises us of the importance of electrochlorination in remote areas. How it is really beneficial for the remote areas where electric power is not available,

The advantages of using Electrochlorination to improve access to clean drinking water are mentioned below:

a) The process is relatively inexpensive compared to other processes.

b) It is one of the most effective processes to desalinate seawater.

c) It has simple operational requirements which can easily be handled by even a non-technical person.

d) This process only requires three things: electric current, water, and common salt.

5. Using Smart Irrigation Controllers

By replacing traditional automatic system timers, smart irrigation controllers have been developed to reduce outdoor water usage by enabling owners to create an efficient water schedule to keep plants healthy and remotely control their systems using smart devices.

It is particularly useful in water-stressed areas where it enables the conservation of limited water resources.

Some more measures can be taken to solve the drinking water problem in rural areas, such as installing reverse osmosis (RO) units, exposure to UV radiation, treatment of agricultural waste, use of water wheels, and flocculating agents (Gelatin, Guar gum, etc.).

Over the past two decades, there have been several improvements across the world regarding access to clean water. However, the rise in population has resulted in an increase in the consumption of water leading to its scarcity. And if we keep on following the same trend, then a time will come when there won’t be enough water to quench the thirst of the world’s population.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the WorldRef.

At Worldref, we understand the critical importance of providing clean and safe water for industries worldwide.

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