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The last major challenge considered was the provision of clean water and sanitation presented by University of North Carolina public health professor Dale Whittington. He noted that about 1.1 billion people lacked improved water supplies, and more than 2.7 billion had no sanitation service. Whittington immediately disabused the audience of the notion that networks of piped water and sanitation were cost effective for many poor people in the world. He pointed out that "the incremental benefit of improved water supply may simply not cover the large cost of providing it, since by definition everyone has some access to water in order to live, and the willingness to pay for an improvement may be low." The full economic costs of such systems range between $40 and $80 per month which is vastly more than many people's monthly incomes. Networked sewage systems cost even more.
Whittington did offer some cost-effective solutions, including deep borehole wells combined with hand pumps. Such wells could supply water to 60 households. Until recently, even this was not considered economically feasible, but Whittington claimed that the costs of boreholes in Africa have now been halved to about $6,000 because of recently increased competition, especially from Chinese contractors active in the region. Adding up the capital costs implies a monthly cost of $2.26 per household.
With regard to sanitation, Whittington recommended financing Community-Led Total Sanitation (CTLS) campaigns. CLTS programs aim to ban open defecation by explaining disease transmission routes and mobilizing social pressure to encourage community members to use low-cost latrines. Whittington estimated that the overall monthly cost of CLTS per household is 32 cents.
The final three big global challenges—women and development, subsidies and trade barriers, and education—will be presented on Wednesday. The Youth Forum will announce its ranking of solutions on Thursday and the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus panel of experts will announce its rankings on Friday.
Ronald Bailey is reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.
Disclosure: Danish taxpayers are paying my travel expenses to attend CC08. There are no conditions placed upon my reporting.