New research launched on January 21 from World Resources Institute (WRI) has found that securing clean and available water for all by 2030 is achievable and might cost as little as $0.29 USD per person per day from 2015 through 2030. This amounts to about 1 percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
“Achieving Abundance: Understanding the Cost of a Sustainable Water Future”, released 21 January, argues that overall economic benefit outstrips the cost stating that every $1.00 invested in water access yields an average return of $6.80.
Water challenges are different in every region and every country but the research concluded that “75 countries can achieve sustainable water management at 2% or less of their annual GDP; 70 countries can get there with 2-8% of GDP; and 17 countries will require more than 8% of their GDP to solve their water problems.”
It appears that no country is exempt from addressing water challenges and all must prioritise tasks in order to achieve the desired outcome.
The report offers some compelling examples of opportunity costs. In the United States, to deliver sustainable water management would cost about 0.78 percent of GDP. Addressing water scarcity is the biggest challenge. WRI cites that the 2018 California fires, fuelled by drought and water scarcity, cost about $24 Billion USD in damages. In addition, there are unknown future costs as the fires have affected the quality of drinking water for years to come.
On the other end of the economic scale, 17 countries, representing 10% of the global population, need more than 8% of annual GDP to deliver access to water and sanitation for all. This quantum arises from both very limited water management and infrastructure and relatively poor economies.
WRI points out that these countries will need assistance from development banks and other financing and development organizations if they are to fully solve their water challenges. It emphasises that state and non-state actors should invest in water security beyond their borders as water crises extend beyond national borders. Water stress and competition for water resources contribute to violent conflict, migration and instability, both internally and beyond country borders. The water stress disrupts agriculture, causes crop failures, affects nutrition, hurts the economy and leads to conflict.
WRI assessed the situation from a global perspective and warns that their data should be used as “base” information. WRI admits that effective management of water resources requires practical knowledge of local conditions and national water challenges, and consideration of localized data and the political landscape.
The report is forthright: the challenges are known and solutions are available. The missing part of the puzzle is the required private and public funding and, importantly, the political will to implement structural changes. But, in the end, resolution of the challenges will benefit all, and the ecosystems that support us.
WRI defines sustainable water management as achieving water security for all and the definition aligns with the United Nation Sustainable Development Goal #6. The paper identifies strategies that would contribute to that goal by 2030. In addition to delivering water access and sanitation services to all, the strategies demand treatment of industrial wastewater, reduction of nutrient content within water resources, imposition of limitations on water withdrawals to sustainable rates, adoption of water governance to match the proposed strategies.
These strategies address ecosystem protection passively in that, for example, preservation of environmental flows will assist in tackling water scarcity and elimination of water pollution will aid in reduction of “dead zones”.
Every country faces different types of water challenges and will need to prioritize different tasks to achieve sustainable water management, such as treating wastewater, delivering clean drinking water, adopting stronger water management policies and investing in vital infrastructure. The relative cost share of each of these tactics varies considerably by country.