Water is one of the basic needs of every human being, irrespective of their age, race or background yet there are still 1 billion people who lack access to safe drinking water, and 2.4 billion who lack access to sanitation. As a result water related diseases remains the largest single cause of human sickness and death in the world today.
To change this situation will require a serious investment, much of which will have to be provided by the international community. It will also require developing nations to commit themselves to serving the poorest in society as they are the most likely to be without adequate access.
Private investment in the provision of water services can have a role to play, and water charging may be appropriate as most people would agree that safe water you pay for is better than dirty water that is free. However some form of regulation should ensure that the private sector maintains safety levels and does not abuse its position.
While the provision of water and sanitation are probably the clearest examples of the need for an effective environmental policy, there are wider issues which should not be neglected in the quest for economic growth. Environmental problems are usually caused by the rich, while it is the poor who suffer. Governments have a role to play in ensuring that the full price of actions are paid, which means taking into account what effect such actions have on others, called externalities. Defining and enforcing property rights will also help to reduce exploitation of common resources.
In the end damaging the environment will not only affect individuals, it can have an irreversible impact on the entire nation.