“Water flows uphill towards money.”
– Gautam Buddha
Editor’s Note, February 2020
Most of us would agree on the basic premise that if we increase the access to better sanitation and good-quality drinking water for our population then it results in both short-term and long-term benefits to the development and betterment of our societies, governments, and nations alike – through improvements in health outcomes and the global economy.
What baffles us though is that when it comes to keeping the promises and allocating funds on the ground for water projects and initiatives like cleaning our rivers, the governments, funding agencies, media, and the subject-matter experts either tend to discover the problems in place of solutions or simply choose to focus and gain from popular and easy-to-implement ideas which look good during elections, annual presentations, and media campaigns.
As per an estimate (depending on the region) we can bring economic benefits, ranging from USD 3 to USD 34 for per USD 1 invested if we achieve the water and sanitation MDG targets. Moreover, the additional improvement of drinking-water quality, if sustained, can lead to a benefit ranging from USD 5 to USD 60 per USD 1 invested.
According to the UN-Water GLAAS report released in 2017, a radical increase in water and sanitation investments is required to finance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The current level of WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) financing is not sufficient to meet SDG targets to achieve universal access to safe and affordable drinking water, adequate sanitation, and hygiene.
To meet the SDG targets, we would need to triple the global capital financing (for the physical service infrastructure) and that is without considering operating and maintenance costs.
A couple of surveys by WHO and World Bank present glaring gaps in our financing strategies, policies, and governance models. The difference between aspiration and reality is huge, especially in developing countries like India.
Currently, 80% of countries report insufficient financing to meet even their national WASH targets, 50% of countries say that household tariffs are insufficient to recover operation & maintenance costs. Around 70% of the countries use data when deciding how and where to allocate funds but only one-third have financial plans that are defined, agreed, and consistently followed. Around 70% of the countries have specific plans to reach low-income communities with WASH, however, only an estimated 25% of WASH aid was spent on basic systems for unserved people, particularly in rural areas.
If we compare the water sector with some other sectors (even with major social sectors like education and health), the water sector gets relatively low-priority.
The governments world over (central and local both) must understand the benefits of investment in water and sanitation when they plan their annual budgets when they formulate and announce new environmental policies when they fix priorities to their key sectors, and most importantly when they allocate funds to projects and schemes. The economic benefits of making investments in drinking water & sanitation repay handsomely in many ways (which are also interconnected) like better health-care savings for health agencies and individuals; productive days gained/year and increased school attendance; time-savings resulting from more convenient access to services; and the value of deaths averted.
The fundamentals of finance remain the same whether it is water or any other sector. There are no quick-fixes or magic bullets.
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