Quest 6: To pay or not to pay?

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Water: a human right

Water is crucial to human health, food production and economic development. It’s considered a basic human right (something a person is entitled to) and sustainable development is impossible without it.

Access to safe water is a fundamental human need and, therefore, a basic human right. Contaminated water jeopardises both the physical and social health of all people. It is an affront to human dignity.

Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General

The Water for Life Decade was launched in March 2005 to encourage countries to meet the United Nations Millenium Development Goal for water and sanitation. This goal aims to improve people’s access to water and sanitation.

Goal: to reduce by half the number of people that do not have access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015.


Water: a commodity

Many profit-motivated corporations see water in economic terms and consider it a commodity (something a person should pay to get). Selling water for profit provides business opportunities but risks making access to water more readily available to those who can afford it rather than available to all.

Water is one of the world’s greatest business opportunities. It promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th century.

Fortune Magazine

Installing water systems and supplying water costs money. So water isn’t usually free and the user is expected to pay for what they use. When people pay for what they use, it can encourage them to be efficient water users. Unfortunately, those who can afford to pay may not be motivated to use water more efficiently. Those who can’t afford to pay must either use less than they need or risk having their supply cut.

Water service prices per cubic metre (m3 = 1000 litres)

Country Year Price
(in US dollars)
Mexico 2001 $0.25
Italy 2001 $0.60
Canada 1999 $0.77
Czech Republic 2000 $0.99
Japan 2001 $1.19
United States 2001 $1.40
Australia 2000 $1.49
UK 2001 $2.39
Finland 2002 $2.73
Denmark 2001 $4.10
Norway 2002 $5.10


Find out more

The World Health Organisation's report on The Right to Water.
Go to: Related links "The right to water" > Chapter One - Water as a Human Right

Check progress on Goal 7 in the most recent Millenium Development Goals Progress Report.

See what's happening for the Water for Life Decade.

Find out the price of water by contacting your City Council or District Council.

Learn how New Zealand's water resources are managed, owned and used.
Ministry for the Environment - Water.

Freshwater for the future - Information sheet.