2004 December 30 Thursday
Milestone: More Than Half The Human Race Has Piped Water

Half the human race has piped water for the first time in history.

Across the developing world, some 700 million people have gained a household connection to drinking water since 1990 - and helped the world reach a crucial tipping point. Now for the first time, more than half the globe's people have drinking water piped into their homes, according to an August report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.

While a lot has been written about a supposed coming global water shortage here is this very positive trend that has gotten far less press. My guess is that as the industrialization of China and South Asia continues the resulting rising affluence will create the demand from hundreds of millions of people for much more indoor plumbing and better sanitation. That will reduce the incidence of diseases, save huge amounts of time, and make much more time available for education and for the creation of wealth.

Of course the increase in indoor plumbing and of water piped through neighborhoods is reducing the risk of water-borne disease. But it is having a number of other consequences that are perhaps less immediately obvious to most of us First Worlders. Women who no longer have to spend a large part of their day going to get water now have a lot of time to engage in wealth generating and educational activities.

For instance, Tanzanians are building new schools in just five months in watered districts, where women have time to swing hammers. Equivalent projects drag on for eight months or more in areas where women spend their days fetching water, according to the Tanzanian Embassy in the United States. What's more, children who don't need to haul water are more apt to go to school and break a cycle of poverty, says Ms. Smith-Nilson.

Will this virtuous cycle continue? My guess is that progress will continue in most of South Asia and in China. But will higher population growth rates in the most backward countries of Africa overwhelm any advances there?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 December 30 01:31 AM  Economics Development

Kenny said at December 31, 2004 9:01 PM:

But will higher population growth rates in the most backward countries of Africa overwhelm any advances there?
If you posulate that all people are basically alike, these advances will cause a lower birthrate anywhere like they have caused in the rest of the world.

Randall Parker said at January 1, 2005 12:56 AM:


But it is unreasonable to postulate that all people are basically alike. All people are obviously not basically alike.

Even industrialization has not equally lowered the birthrates everywhere. How to explain, for example, a much lower birth rate among Italians and Spaniards in Italy and Spain than among whites in America who as a group have much higher per capita GDPs? Many other examples can be cited.

Also, poverty and backwardness does not cause the same high level of births everywhere. At the extreme the women in Niger on average have 8 children. Yet many other countries of similar per capita GDP have much lower birth rates.

Also, the assumption that birthrates are destined to only fall is incorrect. In some countries birthrates have stopped dropping and even increased. Sorry I can't name specific countries but I saw a demographer at a think tank in Washington DC elaborate on at a session broadcast on C-Span. If anyone knows the name of the demographer and the think tank please tell me. I'd really like to find the report he was there to present.

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