- Bottled water
Access to safe water is necessary for lives and livelihoods in the Commonwealth and the rest of the world. Adequate access to clean water and sanitation facilities can prevent the immediate health risks of dehydration; provide for consumption, cooking, personal and general hygienic requirements; and reduce the risk of water-borne diseases.
Water and sanitation services mostly remain the preserve of the public sector in the Commonwealth. In a majority of the countries water is delivered to households and businesses by local government or municipally-owned companies and sourced from national and local reservoirs. Because water services are seen as an essential public service and basic right, privatisation is often a contentious issue. The UK is the only Commonwealth country to have fully privatised its water operators. Privatisation has only been partially successful in other developed member states where it continues to face strong opposition. In most developing member states privatisation has been largely unsuccessful even in liberalised environments*. Private sector investments that have occurred in utility delivery have in most cases taken place in the energy sector.
About 360 million Commonwealth citizens do not have access to clean water. Population access to clean water in at least 16 Commonwealth countries is under 90%. Twenty-two Commonwealth countries have less than 90% population access to adequate sanitation facilities. Access to clean and safe water is significantly lower in the rural areas of many developing member states. A network of water and sanitation services will often extend only to urban areas in many developing countries and the quality of the services themselves is at times, inadequate.
Water and sanitation access is a significant international developmental issue. ‘Halving, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation’ is one of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals. The Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), administered by the World Bank since the late 1970s, is one of many projects funded by donor governments to support poor people in obtaining affordable, safe and sustainable access to water and sanitation services. On the international NGO front, WaterAid, which works in 16 Commonwealth countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, has funded numerous projects and has been the leading voice in international civil society on policy matters regarding water and sanitation.
*Although various forms of private contracting take place.
Bottled water is the fastest growing beverage in the world including the Commonwealth. Much of this success is attributed to powerful marketing campaigns because the industry is ironically most successful in countries were the water is safe to drink! Today bottled water holds a significant share of the soft drink industry in most developed countries. The industry has grown too in developing member states of the Commonwealth where it has for a long time been generally considered a luxury, often sold at hotels, restaurants and tourist spots. However, attitudes are changing as it is increasingly treated like any other soft drink and a necessity in some developing countries where tap water may not considered safe to drink. India’s bottled water industry has grown many times over and annual revenues are edging closer to if not over a billion US dollars.