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New WRI research found it Could Only Cost 1% of GDP to Solve Global Water Crises

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 extremely high 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 world’s water crises, though, cost far less than you might think. New WRI research  Achieving Abundance: Understanding the Cost of a Sustainable Water Future Data found that securing water for our societies by 2030 could cost just over 1% 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 2-10% by 2050.

  • The authors found 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.
  • For 75 countries representing half the global population, achieving sustainable water management is well within reach, requiring less than 2% of GDP.
  • In the United States, for example, the estimated cost to deliver sustainable water management is only 0.78% of GDP. The largest investment gap is solving water scarcity, which makes up 67% of the country’s costs to achieving “water for all.” (Note: this does not include the cost of replacing existing infrastructure, such as pipes, that may have reached the end of its effective life.)
  • Seventeen countries, representing 10% of the global population, need more than 8% of their annual GDP to deliver sustainable water management. This is due to both very limited water management and infrastructure and relatively poor economies. These countries will need assistance from development banks and other financing and development organizations if they are to fully solve their water challenges.
  • Achieving sustainable water management in Mali, for example, could require more than 8% of the country’s 2030 GDP. Like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa — including Eritrea, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone — delivering access to drinking water and sanitation services is the top cost category for Mali, accounting for 58% of total costs.

Countries, states and governments around the world should pay attention to, and invest in, water security outside their own boundaries. Water crises cascade beyond national borders: Droughts and water stress can contribute to violent conflict, migration and regional instability. In Mali, violence is already erupting between farmers and pastoralists over increasingly scarce water and land resources. Water shortages can hurt agriculture, raising the prices of staple crops around the world. This can cause poor nutrition, hurt the global economy and further contribute to conflict. For example, droughts in 2010 in Russia, Ukraine, China and Argentina caused spikes in wheat prices, which experts say was one of many driving forces of the Arab Spring.

Further reading from WRI and Related Blog Posts

Further reading on water related issues from UNCCD Library and Knowledge Hub   ; water management; water scarcity ; water security; water stress