• Katie Kelton

What is Water Poverty?

Updated: Jul 22

Written for Water Mission


“Water poverty” is the economic poverty that stems from a lack of safe water. Without it, communities suffer from scarce food and nutrition, overwhelming preventable illnesses, lack of educational time, and an economy that does not help families succeed. Clean, safe water is a basic need for human life.

What does water poverty mean for a community?


Water poverty indicates whether a community is thriving or surviving.


The disparity between water poverty and water wealth is clear when comparing the United States to rural Mexico. The United States consumes four times the amount of North America’s water that Mexico consumes. A gallon of water in the United States costs a penny, while in rural Mexico without a local safe water solution, it costs a dollar - 100 times more. And this disparity affects more than drinking water. The production of coffee beans in your morning cup of coffee consumes nearly 35 gallons of water. In just one day, a single golf course consumes over 100,000 gallons of water - comparable to watering a field of grain. Water poverty dilutes nearly every facet of life, depriving communities of basic needs and luxuries that other communities have.

Water poverty is also why half of the world’s population, or 4.2 billion people, lack safe sanitation. Another half do not have toilets or latrines. Illnesses from unsafe sanitation amplify economic poverty by reducing time spent at school or work.


Water is the beginning of a thriving community. Clean, safe water helps communities grow healthy food, not get sick from water-borne illnesses, and have safe water in clinics and hospitals. Easy access to safe water allows children to go to school instead of walking hours for water, where they learn valuable skills to offer to their community. By addressing the issue of water poverty, communities can be freed from the issues of economic poverty.

To invest in safe water not only saves lives, it saves money. In rural communities, every $1 invested in basic sanitation saves more than $5 in medical costs and increased productivity. An investment in safe drinking water is even higher - $1 saves nearly $7 for a rural community.

How can you help with water poverty during COVID-19?


COVID-19 is an urgent concern for communities where water poverty persists. You can help Water Mission provide two life-saving solutions:

  • Hygiene promotion. Our global staff are teaching coronavirus-specific hygiene education, especially preventive health practices such as handwashing.

  • Safe water. To effectively care for patients and prevent the spread of viruses, clinics and hospitals need clean, safe water. We partnered with healthcare workers to protect 19,500 patients in the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and are making an even bigger effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Help us serve communities where coronavirus cases have been reported and preventative hygiene education is most needed.

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©2020 by Katie Kelton Storytelling