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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), distribution systems should make drinking water available so that people do not need to travel more than one kilometer from the place where they will use the water. For all people, there is a cost involved in having water distributed to their home or community. Some costs are monetary, while others are measured in the time it takes to travel to and from a safe drinking water source.

Monetary costs are common. Some people pay a municipality or private utility to distribute water to their homes. Others who lack this infrastructure pay the cost for water in other ways—by purchasing water from a community source, a water refilling station, a bottled water shop, or another source.

Time-measured costs impact people with limited monetary funds who often take time out of their day to walk to a water source and retrieve clean water. The time spent fetching water represents a cost to human health, productivity, and in many cases, educational opportunities—a burden that is borne disproportionately by women and girls.

In various locations, the costs of water supply are subsidized by government institutions. In some cases, this is an essential tool in providing water to poor communities; in other instances, it can lead to inefficient or wasteful use of the resource by those who do not fully appreciate its full cost.