Precious Gallons

The eastern United States may be smarting under a serious drought, but on average Americans get a bargain when they pay their water bills; municipal water is much more expensive in most Western European countries. Many urban dwellers in developing countries don't even have access to tap water and must pay dearly to buy water from private vendors who often charge many times the price of piped water.

The average American uses about 70 gallons of water a day. The World Commission on Water for the 21st Century recommends a minimum availability of 10 gallons per person per day.

Average price per 1,000 gallons of water

Germany $8.18

Belgium 5.87

France 5.10

Netherlands 4.92

Britain 4.83

Finland 2.91

Italy 2.65

Sweden 2.61

U.S. 2.27

Spain 1.78

Canada 1.17

Note: The price of water does not necessarily reflect availability of water. Some governments and private water utilities charge prices based on market conditions, others increase prices to limit consumption and still others subsidize water as a matter of social policy.

Some local prices, exclusive of sewer charges:

Montgomery County $3.05

D.C. 1.84

Fairfax County 1.25

Average water prices per 1,000 gallons in urban centers of selected developing countries:

Pakistan $3.01

Uganda 1.86

Algeria 1.59

India 1.59

Tunisia 1.14

Peru 0.53

Indonesia 0.34

In developing countries, many of the urban poor buy their water from private water vendors and use much less water than do affluent people in those cities. But they pay much higher prices to water vendors than the rich pay for running water. For instance, slum dwellers in Pakistan pay 83 times the price paid by families that are hooked up to water systems; in Indonesia 60 times more, Peru 20 times and in Tunisia 10 times. Moreover, the water sold by vendors is often of dubious quality, exposing many poor people to diseases.

SOURCE: World Commission on Water for the 21st Century, an organization sponsored by the World Bank and the United Nations