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Unclogging the Water and Sanitation Crisis
Robert Katz, 5 May 08

Safe tap water is a luxury that many people in the world do not enjoy. In many developing countries, it is not safe to drink or use the tap water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posts health information about every country in the world, and it’s interesting to see how many countries fall under the following advice: "Drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated (bubbly) drinks in cans or bottles."

Bottled water is expensive, of course, and people living at the base of the pyramid (BoP) often cannot afford it. World Resources Institute’s research in The Next 4 Billion: Market Size and Business Strategy at the Base of the Pyramid shows that low-income customers pay anywhere from eight to sixteen times more for bottled or trucked water than they would for a local, public utility (page 58). If this isn’t a BoP penalty, then I don’t know what is.

Access to clean drinking water is a concern world-wide – but it is not the sole responsibility of government to provide it. The Next 4 Billion report concluded that there is a clear willingness to pay for clean water in the BoP. However, even if there is a willingness to pay, access to such services is not widespread, especially in rural areas. What the world needs are effective and innovative ideas on how to get these services to the people in base of the pyramid communities, and to deliver them.

In that light, Ashoka’s Changemakers has partnered with The Global Water Challenge to launch a collaborative competition to discuss and discover new solutions. WorldChangers will be familiar with the Changemakers initiative, which has run collaborative competitions for everything from ethical ideas to affordable housing and is also the source of cool concepts like the Social Entrepreneurial Solutions Mosaic and the Changemaker Innovation Awards.

The latest competition, Unclogging the Water and Sanitation Crisis, opened back in January. It will close on Sunday; 9 finalists have been selected by the community, and voting is open. If you haven't already, drop by the Changemakers site and vote - it only takes a few minutes, and your voice actually counts (three winners get $5,000 cash and are eligible for up to $1 million worth of Global Water Challenge grants).

In an era when most decisions - political, business - are made in back rooms away from our inquiring eyes, Changemakers represents real change (pun intended). By opening up the decision making process to anyone with a web connection, they are democratizing (and crowdsourcing) at the base of the pyramid. Happy voting...

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