If the world isn't quite flat, it's flattening. American companies are outsourcing jobs overseas. One-time apple-pie companies Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) now derive more than a third of revenues outside of the United States. And, as we've advocated more than once at The Motley Fool, going global in your portfolio is a wise move.

Indeed, by now, you've probably seen a variation of this statistic:


Total Return 2006

South Africa


United States


Fourteen percent is respectable, but it ranked just 84th out of the 93 markets tracked by Thomson. Without doubt, the world is shrinking -- fast. Anyone with a brokerage account can, in an instant, purchase South African heavyweights Gold Fields (NYSE:GFI) or Telkom SA (NYSE:TKG) or, even better, the entire market with the iShares MSCI South Africa ETF (AMEX:EZA).

Beneath the surface
But -- and this will surprise exactly no one -- there still exists a massive gap in a flat world, between developed nations and those still developing. South Africa fits the latter profile. Half the population is unemployed. South Africans have nearly half the life expectancy of the average American. Consider these statistics:


Unemployment Rate

Population Below Poverty Line

Life Expectancy at Birth

HIV/AIDS Adult Prevalence Rate

People Living With HIV/AIDS

South Africa



42.45 years


5.3 million

United States



78 years



*Highest in the world. Source: CIA World Factbook.

While the United States is by no means without its problems, as a whole, nearly nine in 10 Americans live above the poverty line, and unemployment stays relatively low. Most citizens earn enough to feed themselves long enough to see their grandchildren.

One major reason for the enormous disparity is water -- our most basic natural resource.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been quoted as saying, "We shall not finally defeat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or any of the other infectious diseases that plague the developing world until we have also won the battle for safe drinking water, sanitation and basic health care."

In honor of Earth Day, the U.S. government issued some helpful tips on water conservation. Among them:

  • Take short showers instead of tub baths.
  • Scrape, rather than rinse, dishes before loading into the dishwasher; wash only full loads.
  • Set sprinklers to water the lawn or garden only -- not the street or sidewalk.

Now read what the CIA World Factbook lists as South Africa's current environmental issues: "Lack of important arterial rivers or lakes requires extensive water conservation and control measures; growth in water usage outpacing supply; pollution of rivers from agricultural runoff and urban discharge; air pollution resulting in acid rain; soil erosion; desertification."

Water. South Africans lack access to safe, clean water. Without it, disease spreads. Families are strained (it's estimated that some families spend as much as six hours a day walking to and from water taps). And, ultimately, countries fail to move from "developing" to "developed."

What's the cost?
In the words of John F. Turner, Assistant Secretary of State:

Over 50% of the world's hospital beds are filled with patients suffering from water-related diseases. The World Health Organization estimates that by reducing by half the proportion of people that lack access to safe water and adequate sanitation the world would save nearly $90 billion annually.

Heeding that call, Motley Fool Global Gains has teamed up with an organization called PlayPumps, which has developed a truly unique and sustainable solution to the African water challenge. (Read all about PlayPumps here.)

As Global Gains advisor Bill Mann said, "We've found a way to help give back some of what we get from the global community to those most in need of our help."

The challenge
We're not alone. PlayPumps counts Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL) among its advertising sponsors (advertising on the pumps helps offset maintenance and operating costs), while JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM) is one of the organization's pump partners.

Here's what you can do. PlayPumps is in the midst of a "100 pumps in 100 days" campaign. Contribute whatever you can spare. The pumps themselves cost $14,000, but small donations make a very big difference. Motley Fool Global Gains is holding a sweepstakes as well -- we're holding drawings to give away a year's subscription to Global Gains.* You're automatically entered if you contribute to PlayPumps.

To contribute or to learn more, click here.

Brian Richards does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, and Wal-Mart are Inside Value recommendations. JPMorgan is an Income Investor recommendation. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

*No purchase necessary. Sweepstakes end 6/28/07. Open to U.S. residents 18 years and older. For details on entry, including how to enter without purchase, see Official Rules. Void where prohibited.