To So and her colleagues at the World Bank, water safety is inseparable from sanitation—access to which lags far behind clean water. The need for clean water is apparent to almost everyone, she notes, but in many areas where open defecation is still the norm, the demand for sanitation is just not there yet. And where proper sanitation is scarce, any vulnerable water sources are much more likely to become contaminated.
By the U.N.'s development goals, sanitation is not expected to meet the target improvements by 2015. By the World Bank's count, poor sanitation—and its subsequent contamination of water supplies—costs India some $53.8 billion each year (some 6.4 percent of the country's entire gross domestic product), not to mention untold number of deaths and illnesses. And as a threat to safe drinking water, So says, "sanitation is the big crisis." Further, simply plodding toward its 2015 target is keeping millions in jeopardy of unsafe water. "Improvements cannot be 'slowly but surely,'" So says. "It's taken way too long for the world to get rid of a simple problem."