June 13, 2012

River Sustainability Key To Health & Prosperity

Brett Smith for

Maintaining the world´s large river basins will be a key to bolstering the overall health and economies of the regions containing them, according to a new report by the United Nations.

Despite the importance given to these major waterways, the study´s projections show that seven of the top 10 river basins are currently being used at volumes that are unsustainable. At the same time, the study reported that almost 25 percent of worldwide GDP will come from the world´s river basins by 2050.

This confluence of factors points to a massive return on investments in the improvement and sustainability of the world´s major rivers. The report, commissioned by Frontier Economics, listed a number of challenges that need to be tackled in order for the "water challenge" to be addressed.

As well as improving the access to drinking water and sanitation, it also listed the need for greater efficiency in the way water is consumed within the agricultural, industrial, and housing sectors.

The report suggested a one-time investment could go a long way to meeting several challenges faced by these regions. For example, if Nepal were to invest $142 million in water projects and $896 in sanitation particularly along the Ganges River and its tributaries, it would see a 3 percent growth in GDP annually and it would recoup the investments over the span of 3 years.

"We argue that the social and economic gains show that the investment in water and sanitation is critical," Barbara Frost, chief executive of WaterAid told the BBC.

"This report really picks up that up and shows that the return on each dollar invested is about, on average, five dollars."

Several goals regarding clean water access and sanitation are being strived for by many of the world´s emerging economies. The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) developed by the UN lists 75 percent of the world's population benefiting from improved sanitation, yet figures point to only 63 percent of the world's population currently having improved sanitation access, a figure many expect to increase to 67 percent by 2015.This figure means that 2.5 billion people are still without the level of sanitation outlined in the MDGs.

The report added that many Latin American and Central African countries could see annual GDP increases of 5 percent or more if MDG targets are met, with the economic boost rising to as much as 15 percent with universal access to clean water and sanitation. China could also see a 1 percent boost in its trillion-dollar GDP if its entire population had access to clean water and sanitation.

"Over the past 30 years, there have been so many initiatives - sometimes these have not been particularly joined-up," Frost said.

"There does need to be a clear and common agenda on water security, one that puts people that the heart of this as well."

The release of report coincides with the launch of the HSBC Water Program, a $100 million, five-year partnership with World Wildlife Fund, WaterAid and Earthwatch aimed at combating the water challenge facing many river basins.