Why is packaged drinking water so expensive?

In India, drinking water is now more expensive than oil

Whenever I'm out and about in an Indian village with the photographer Harsha Vadlamani, Harsha gets a glass of unfiltered water from the tap or the village well. Harsha's declared goal is to develop a resistance against all bacteria and germs that cavort in Indian water. A tricky undertaking: The NGO Water.org estimates that around 1,600 people die every day in India from diarrhea that they have caught from contaminated water.

This is why normal Indians filter their tap water - or trust bottled water. But that's expensive, more expensive than in Germany. The TV broadcaster NDTV has now calculated that in India even crude oil is now cheaper than a water bottle on the street stall. At a barrel price of around 30 US dollars, that translates to around 12 rupees per liter. That is 20 percent cheaper than a one-liter water bottle, which can be had at an Indian kiosk for around 15 rupees (around 20 euro cents).

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In Germany, which normally has a much higher price level for consumer goods than India, packaged water is significantly cheaper. At Aldi Nord, a liter costs 13 cents - 35 percent less than in India.

Why is water so expensive in India? One reason might be that clean water is pretty scarce. Tap water, if available at all, is dangerous. Around 77 million Indians have no access to clean drinking water. As soon as you can afford it, you switch to bottled water.

In many regions there is also drought, which drives up the costs of transport and filling. In their distress, Indian scientists are already looking for a mythical river, the Saraswati, which is now said to run underground. The successes are modest, however, and the scientific evidence is very poor anyway. Many experts advise protecting existing rivers rather than looking for new ones.

For the fact that the Indians have to pay so much for their packaged water, they also get a rather poor quality: In a test in 2015, the food inspectorate in the state of Maharashtra classified half of all samples tested as unsafe. As the "Times of India" reports, around 90 percent of bottlers do not meet the legal standards in India.

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