World Water Day: Governments must invest in water and sanitation


22/03/2011 - Would people invest more in clean water if they knew just how expensive dirty water is? World Water Day is an opportunity to remind governments worldwide that they have a responsibility to invest in clean water for the health of their citizens and their environments.


“People in developing countries can least afford to treat water-borne disease. Governments and the international community need to overcome the annual shortfall of USD 10-30 billion to meet the water and sanitation infrastructure goals implied by the Millennium Development Goals.” says OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria. “For governments, basic water supply and sanitation services are a good investment, with the savings outstripping costs by 7 fold.”

Developed countries too must invest. The US will have to spend USD 23 billion over each of the next 20 years to maintain water infrastructure at levels which meet health and environmental standards. The UK and Japan will need to increase their water spending by 20 to 40% to cope with urgent rehabilitation and upgrading of their water infrastructure.


Treating wastewater more effectively can also generate significant benefits, as highlighted by the latest OECD report Benefits of Investing in Water Supply and Sanitation. For instance, the health benefits of quality improvements of recreational waters in the Netherlands have been calculated at EUR 2.4 billion over a 20-year period. In Normandy, France, it has been estimated that if 40% of the coastal beaches were polluted and closed forever visits to the region would drop by 14% leading to the loss of 2,000 local jobs and 350 million Euros per year. Specialised studies show that the value of water-front properties rises from 11 to 18 per cent when the water quality is improved.

The OECD report notes also that improving water and sanitation would rank higher on the political agenda if people understood the benefits of investing in these services. It recommends that policy makers, especially those in Ministries of Finance and Economy, develop investment strategies, based on cost-benefit analysis, and implement the polluter-pays and the user-pays principles.

Water is one of our most important global, long-term challenges, let’s celebrate this water day by giving it all the attention it deserves.

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Journalists can e-mail to receive a copy of Benefits of Water Supply and Sanitation and contact Peter Borkey in the OECD Environment directorate for further information: or call + 331 45 24 13 85.


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