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Benefits of Investing in Water and Sanitation

An OECD Perspective

image of Benefits of Investing in Water and Sanitation

The provision of water supply, sanitation and wastewater services generates substantial benefits for public health, the economy and the environment. Benefit-to-cost ratios can be as high as 7 to 1 for basic water and sanitation services in developing countries.

Wastewater treatment interventions, for example, generate significant benefits for public health, the environment and for certain economic sectors such as fisheries, tourism and property markets.

The full magnitude of the benefits of water services is seldom considered for a number of reasons, including the difficulty in quantifying important non-economic benefits such as non-use values, dignity, social status, cleanliness and overall well-being. Also, information about the benefits of water services is usually hidden in the technical literature, where it remains invisible to key decision-makers in ministries.

This report draws together and summarises existing information on the benefits of water and sanitation.

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Managing water supply and demand in a sustainable manner

For water services to be provided sustainably over time, it is critical to ensure that the raw material, clean water, is adequately protected and managed. This will become increasingly relevant with the threat of climate change, in both developed and developing countries, even though the latter are likely to be more exposed to variations in rainfall and overall scarcity. According to forecasts presented in the Stern report (Stern, 2007), a 2°C rise in global temperature will lead to between 1 and 4 billion people experiencing growing water shortages, mainly in Africa, the Middle East, Southern Europe, and parts of South and Central America. In South and East Asia, by contrast, between 1 and 5 billion people may receive more water. But as much of the additional water will be available during wet seasons, sufficient storage capacity will be needed if shortages during dry seasons are to be alleviated.

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