poorest pay the highest prices, with Ethiopia’s case being quite bad


In Zambia better off neighbours make a small profit selling water to those without connections

WATERAID, recently launched it latest report “Water: At What Cost? The State of the World’s Water 2016”, which showed that the poorest people in the world are paying the highest price for safe water.

This goes against the assumption that the poor of the world don’t have formal water supplies because they cannot afford the bills when in fact, as the report said, the poorest are already paying and often far more than their better off or wealthy fellow citizens who have an “official” water point.

Getting hold of clean water can be a costly business in countries where there’s no official water supply and people are instead forced to buy their water from street vendors, tanker trucks or other informal delivery services, all of which charge a premium.

An illustration of these discrepancies can be seen below:

According to the WaterAid study, water saps more than half of the meagre earnings of many of the world’s poorest while those in developed nations spend only a fraction of their incomes on water.

Case studies

The report included several case studies that illustrate this and the challenges that people face in the collection of the expensive resource.

On the outskirts of Maputo, in Mozambique, there are government-subsidised tap-stands which are shared between about 500 families, with each family paying 0.6 meticais ($0.014) a day for safe, regular water. But this isn’t the case for everyone by any means. For many their only means of obtaining water is through illegal vendors, at a cost of 2.5 meticais ($0.06) per 20-litre jerry can – a considerably higher cost for those living hand to mouth every day.

In Leku Keta, in the Oromia region of Ethiopia (the fourth country in the world for number of people without water) taps only run for three or four times a month. Families try to store water in any available barrels, but it is often not enough and they have to resort to buying water from water vendors. Water vendors are usually young people scraping together a living by carrying water to households with no regular supply. The vendors buy water from the utility for just 45 birr ($2.1) for 1,000 litres but charge customers 3 birr ($0.14) for 50 litres at the point of sale, or 30 birr ($1.4) for 50 litres to be delivered to their house.

This can be compared to a typical middle-class household in Addis Ababa which pays the utility company around 15 birr ($0.7) for a month’s supply of constant, piped water: over 100 litres a day. Per litre, that’s 20 times less than buying water from a tap-stand vendor.

Further south in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia (21st out of 199 countries for percentage of population without safe water) many residents have no proper water supply or sewerage services. They have no choice but to buy water from vendors in a nearby, more affluent suburb.

Here, richer people drill boreholes at their premises and then sell containers to those with no supply of their own. Individuals will typically spend 12 kwacha ($1) per day for their water needs. For those in the city lucky enough to have a piped supply, Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company charge just 3.93 kwacha ($0.35) for 30,000 litres of water.