Some 3.4 million people abroad die annually of diseases caused by drinking polluted water. Fortunately, drinking water in Japan is virtually free of pollution and pathogens thanks to the efforts of the 60,000 local government people employed in city water supply services.

June 15 marked the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the city water law, which established regulations for city water supply services. This autumn, Japan will mark the 120th anniversary of the first modern city water services. On Oct. 17, 1887, Yokohama started supplying city water to some of its citizens. Henry Spencer Palmer (1838-1893), an engineer from Britain, served as technical adviser for Yokohama’s city water project.

Only 26.2 percent of the nation’s population was receiving city water services in 1950. The rate shot up to 53.4 percent by 1960, 80.7 percent by 1970, 91.5 percent by 1980 and 97.2 percent by 2005.

In Tokyo, only 3.6 percent of city water is lost to leakage while traveling through water mains and pipes from water purification plants to homes. The average rate in major cities abroad is more than 10 percent. The rate in London is 26.5 percent. Japan’s water quality is also high due to advanced purification systems.

Nonetheless, efforts must be made to ensure the quality of city water services in the future remains high. Many city water facilities are becoming old and in need of renewal. The central and local governments must obtain the cooperation of citizens in securing the necessary funds. It will also become important to ensure that future generations inherit the skills of today’s city water services workers. The central and local government must also take action to prevent pollutants from entering city water systems, preserve watershed-protection forests and make water supply systems earthquake-proof.

The United Nations reports that 1.1 billion people worldwide do not have safe drinking water continuously, and this number is likely to increase due to global warming. Japan should use its knowledge and wealth to help in this field.

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