800 million people lack reliable access to drinkable water and that problem could engulf many more in the years ahead, warns Alex Scott, senior editor for Europe at Chemical&Engineering News.

The problem, Scott says, is that most companies involved in water treatment technologies focus on providing services in wealthy industrialized nations. But today's most critical shortage of clean water is impacting impoverished areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and other poor regions that can't afford to build or sustain large-scale water purification plants. Companies that provide water purification technology find it difficult to channel R&D cash toward small-scale, inexpensive water treatment devices that won't recoup their investment, let alone turn a profit.

The good news: there is no common technology that didn't go after the wealthiest market first. Cotton was once exclusive to nobility. Cars and televisions were expensive. The earliest home CD burners were $5,000. A lot of companies actually do a great deal of charity work as well; the wealthy countries will make developing nations viable, but not until the numbers make sense - just like with every other industry.

Until then, Scott notes that chemical companies (he works for the American Chemical Society) and other non-governmental organizations (example - WaterAid) are doing work that won't make a profit and have developed and started distributing a handful of appropriate technologies. These technologies range from simple boreholes to straws with built-in filtration systems.

Water scarcity is greatest in the Southern Hemisphere but is emerging as a major problem in some industrialized countries.NOTE: Physical water scarcity occurs when water resource development approaches or exceeds sustainable limits. Economic water scarcity occurs when water in nature is available locally to meet human demands but lack of human, institutional, and financial capital limits access to it. SOURCE: International Water Management Institute. Link and credit: Running Dry

The technology is reaching people in rural villages around the world. Many individuals have benefited from these new technologies, which can be life-saving. Obviously millions more are still in need, and that needs to be addressed, but all of the world's problems can't be fixed at the same time. 

Citation: Alex Scott, 'Running Dry', Chemical  &  Engineering News, Volume 91 Issue 29 | pp. 11-15 Issue Date: July 22, 2013