Publications

- October 1, 2021: Vol. 8, Number 9

The 1% solution: Solving the global water crisis is cheaper than you think

by Mike Consol

Statistics on global water challenges are daunting: 3 billion people don’t have basic handwashing facilities. A quarter of the world’s population live in countries facing extreme water stress. There are more than 500 dead zones (areas of the ocean without enough oxygen for most marine life to survive) from untreated wastewater.

The solutions to the world’s water crises, though, cost far less than you might think. New research by the World Resources Institute found that securing water by 2030 could cost just over 1 percent of global GDP, about 29 cents per person, per day from 2015-2030.

And the economic benefits outweigh the costs. Every dollar invested in water access and sanitation yields an average $6.80 in returns. The World Bank found that failing to implement better water management policies could result in regional GDP losses from 2 percent to 10 percent by 2050.

The paper analyzed what it could take to achieve a combination of six strategies that, taken together, can provide water security. The study found 75 countries can achieve sustainable water management at 2 percent or less of their annual GDP; 70 countries can get there with 2 percent to 8 percent of GDP; and 17 countries will require more than 8 percent of their GDP to solve their water problems.

The solutions for achieving sustainable water management, which vary by country, include treating wastewater, delivering clean drinking water, adopting stronger water-management policies and investing in vital infrastructure.

In the United States, for example, the estimated cost to deliver sustainable water management is only 0.78 percent of GDP. The largest investment gap is solving water scarcity, which makes up 67 percent of the country’s costs to achieving “water for all” — though this does not include the cost of replacing existing infrastructure, such as pipes, that may have reached the end of its effective life.

These costs are a pittance compared to the damages the country will incur should water scarcity continue. In California, for example, water scarcity and drought fueled the forest fires that caused $24 billion in damages in 2018 and will negatively affect the quality of drinking water for years to come.

At a broad level, though, the solutions to water-related challenges are already understood. Reducing our collective thirst through demand-management solutions like efficient irrigation often reduces water scarcity, while maintaining productivity and business viability. Nature-based infrastructure that harnesses ecosystems such as forests and wetlands in tandem with traditional infrastructure like pipes and pumps, has major benefits for both water quantity and quality.

The solutions to the world’s water crises are readily available; what’s missing is the money (from public and private sectors) and political will needed to implement them. Resolving the world’s shared water challenges improves the lives and livelihoods for billions, benefits the ecosystems around us, and can yield significant returns on investment.

 

Excerpted by Real Assets Adviser editor Mike Consol from a World Resources Institute article written by Colin Strong, manager of corporate water stewardship, and Samantha Kuzma, an associate for the WRI water program. Read their complete report at this link: https://bit.ly/2WqwcUp

 

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