Water is essential to life, livelihoods, economies and societies. Despite this, one in nine people do not have access to clean water (~780m). One in four do not have secure access to sanitation water. Most of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by those suffering illnesses from water-related causes. In the modern world, this should not be the case.
Yet without effective solutions, the problem is set to get worse. By 2025, it is predicted that two thirds of the world will be affected by water shortages. By 2050, there will be a 40% gap between global water demand and supply.
Whilst access to electricity causes fewer direct deaths, levels of access are even lower. Electricity plays a core role in homes and businesses. Without any source of electricity, people lack access to important resources like connectivity and the economic and social benefits this brings.
Without a viable electricity source for general use, individuals revert to undesirable means of providing heat and cooking. 3 billion people cook and heat their homes by burning biomass (chiefly wood, dung and crop waste). Not only does this have a major detrimental environmental impact, it also leads to around 4 million premature deaths per year.
Currently, one in five people globally (~1.2 billion) do not have access to a stable source of electricity, and almost half the world lacks viable access to electricity for general household tasks like heating and cooking.
Access to stable sources of water, electricity (and, once access to these resources is established, banking/financial services) is a fundamental barrier to economic growth and development in emerging economies. In addition to the extensive direct suffering caused by inaccess, families are driven into subsistence-type livelihoods, with many — women and children in particular — forced to spend their time obtaining water and energy/heat sources. They are therefore unable to drive business, obtain an education, or improve productivity.
Many individuals, societies, and economies and therefore unable leverage the power of markets to help improve lives. For this reason, securing access to stable water/energy sources plays an instrumental role in helping to alleviate poverty more generally, in addition to reducing direct suffering.
The need for change is clear. Solutions are required to provide underserved people with access to essential resources, to address the substantial and varied forms of suffering around the world.
Unsurprisingly, finding an effective solution is not easy. Properly addressing the problem necessitates a deep and nuanced understanding of various factors, and implementing complete solutions is likely to involve a careful combination of partnerships/relationships with different stakeholders.
Fortunately, innovative technologies are beginning to provide a strong platform from which effective solutions can be implemented. As we explain here, new models of production and distribution for water/electricity offer a potential means to more effectively provide access to underserved people and regions, and overcome many of the historical barriers to improvement.
Helpfully, projects in this space benefit from the coalescence between various substantial opportunities for innovators: many countries and consumers increasingly expect companies to give back to the community through CSR. India mandates that large companies do so. There is significant financial appetite in this space: in total, US$621.8 billion was invested in renewables in 2017 globally (excluding hydro-electric projects).
Ultimately, providing access to the underserved is going to require significant investment: by some estimates, US$20 trillion is needed in energy, and US$26 trillion in water by 2035, with significant growth in demand and usage.
Private entities are undoubtedly part of the solution. In helping to address these challenges, not only can corporate innovators be part of making the world a better place, they are able to unlock the power of a rapidly growing market and provide returns to investors and societies alike.