There is no water problem

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 10-15-10

…there are many water problems.

Water issues around the world from flooding to sanitation is perhaps one of the most under-publicized issues in the world, relative to the impact. Perhaps this is because the issues are very correlated to income and development. Underdeveloped countries face the biggest problems. That’s one of the reasons it was chosen for Blog Action Day.

Some facts worth understanding:

  • Depending on the region, the WHO estimates a 300-400 percent return on investments in water infrastructure.
  • The estimated economic loss in Africa due to access to safe water and sanitation is $28.4 billion.
  • In poor countries, up to 14 percent of GDP is loss from disasters.
  • In developing countries, the cost of water where available can be 3-11 percent of the household income.

Water problems lead to disease, famine, increasing food prices, and many predications that future wars will be fought over water rights.

1,000s of blogs will be participating. I’m sure every possible angle will be covered. What can I offer? How about…how can lean thinking help the water problem?

1. There is no water problem

As the title of this post points out, there is no water problem. Too often, companies, society, and certainly politicians like to define problems as the one big problem. And then we start looking for the one big solution. There is not a water problem. There is not one big solution that solves the water problem. The water problem is 1,000s of different problems. And it’s going to require 1,000s of solutions. The longer we think of it as one big problem, the longer we defer getting to work on all the sub-problems that we can make progress on. It’s going to require technology solutions, political solutions, business solutions, community solutions, and more.

2. Use creativity before capital

We love to throw money at these problems. But considering where most of these problems exist, the money doesn’t even exist to solve problems of this magnitude. We need to approach many of the problems from a different angle.

A great example of this thinking comes from Lehigh University student Lisa Boyd, who did work on water issues in Tanzania. In this early report of her work, Lisa found that most people were trying to solve a well pump problem. Pumps weren’t working. The easy but unsustainable solution was to buy new pumps. What Lisa found was that it was really an organizational problem. Without local resources, supported with a small “tax”, can provide maintenance and support of the pump systems to sustain them.

What capital could never solve, they were able to solve through creativity, beginning by reframing the problem.

We will be talking about water issues more and more. It cannot be solved by the United Nations, a single government, or by any one individual. Blog Action Day is about awareness. But awareness is nothing if it doesn’t lead to action. Problem solving and innovation are needed from here. Maybe, just maybe, you can help.|Start Petition