News Feature | December 5, 2013

UN Report: Investing In Water Could Yield $3 Trillion Annually

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Spending more on water infrastructure could yield $3 trillion per year in benefits globally, according to a study released by the United Nations this week. 

"Meeting anticipated world water goals requires an annual investment estimated at $840 billion – $1.8 trillion over the next 20 years, but could also deliver more than $3 trillion annually in economic, environmental and social benefits," the UN's water think tank said in a blog post. 

The research said that "sharply higher spending on water supplies, twinned with a crackdown on corruption," would lead to those benefits, according to Reuters. 

Getting safe tap water to everyone in the world would be an expensive task that could yield economic benefits. Benefits would include "direct economic return, livelihood creation, health system savings, and the preservation of nature's ecosystem services," the study said. 

Officials told Reuters that "the benefit and cost estimates were intended to help debate about water, a sector that faces strains from a rising world population, pollution and climate change."

But corruption is a big caveat in the study. It is “is the elephant in the room” for improved water supplies, said Zafar Adeel, director of the U.N. University’s Institute for Water, Environment, and Health.

If somehow corruption could be eliminated entirely, "the investment needed to meet water goals would be 1.2 – 2.2 percent of GDP annually (up from 0.73 percent) — and return trillions of dollars in lower health and other social costs.  This offers a strong argument for investments into better governance," the report said. 

Currently, corruption is a leak in the system. "It is estimated that corruption costs between 10 and 30 percent of investments in water, the report said.

"According to Transparency International, water is much more capital intensive than other utilities and almost all growth markets for water investment is in countries at high risk of corruption," it said.

The effects of corruption hit certain groups the hardest. Reuters reported that it "falls on the poor and those without access to water."

Image credit: "United Nations in Geneva," © 2009 cometstarmoon, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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