With the United Nations Millennium Declaration putting pressure on governments to halve the number of people lacking access to safe water and decent sanitation by 2015, a new report, sponsored by the UN health agency and launched today, estimates that the additional global investment needed will be $11.3 billion per year.
The World Health Organization (WHO) report, "Evaluation of the Costs and Benefits of Water and Sanitation Improvements at the Global Level," was prepared by the Swiss Tropical Institute and presented at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-12) in New York.
The economic benefits from each dollar invested range from $3 to $34 - or even as much as $60 - depending on the region. An $11.3 billion investment could bring an $84 billion return, the report says.
In the calculations, savings of time from locating water and sanitation facilities more conveniently for people are valued at the minimum hourly wage rate for each country.
The report notes that improving water and sanitation saves on funds for treating sometimes fatal diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases. The reduction of infectious diarrhoea ranges from 4 per cent in the poorest areas, using simple improvements, to 69 per cent in areas using the highest water supply and sanitation technologies.
"In 2003, there were an estimated 6 million deaths due to unsafe water and lack of sanitation and hygiene, 90 per cent of those of children in developing countries," Dr. Jamie Bartram, WHO Coordinator for Water, Sanitation and Health, told a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York. "However, outbreaks of diseases related to the problems broke out in countries at all levels of development."
Asked why the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for water was presenting such difficulties, WHO Assistant Director-General Dr. Kerstin Leitner said, "The world population is still growing.
"Something that used to be an abundant resource was abundant no more, the more so since the world population is moving into areas that did not use to have settlements, such as the semi-arid north China plain, still using traditional water technologies."
Increased industrialization had also polluted more water resources, she said.
Governments have pledged to provide 1.5 billion people with access to improved drinking water and 1.9 billion people with basic sanitation facilities by 2015, under the MDGs, adopted at a UN summit in 2000.
Improving only water supplies would cost an additional $1.78 billion annually. Improving sanitation costs a great deal more because a greater number of people need access at this time and require more privacy, whereas water supply services are shared by many people for many public uses, it said.