An $8 Billion Annual Investment Would Allow Asia to Meet Water MDG, Report Says

News Release | 18 November 2005

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - Despite the uneven progress across Asia and the Pacific in expanding the poor's access to improved water supply and sanitation, an investment of just US$8 billion annually would ensure that every country in the region meets Target 10 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), according to a new MDG monitoring report.

The report, "Asia Water Watch 2015: Are Countries in Asia on Track to Meet Target 10 of the Millennium Development Goals?" was presented yesterday by ADB, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Target 10 specifically calls for countries to halve by 2015 the proportion of people living without sustainable access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation.

"The strong correlation between water and poverty proves that when water is inaccessible and unfit, it is a barrier. But when it is available and clean, water is a bridge to even greater security and prosperity for the poor," the report says.

The report charts the impact that meeting Target 10 would likely have on each of the eight MDGs and their respective targets. For instance, as better water management reduces the incidence of diseases related to poor water supply and sanitation, the report points out that if Target 10 is achieved, 275 million cases of diarrhea in the region will be averted and US$2.5 billion will be saved in health costs per year.

"It is never just water for water's sake, but water for poverty's sake," saidBindu Lohani, Director General for ADB's Regional and Sustainable Development Department, in his opening remarks. "Clean water and improved sanitation can save the poor time, improve their health and provide them income opportunities."

For these reasons, the report advocates for countries to prioritize meeting Target 10 first, and substantially, in order for its overall poverty-reducing impact to register in the other MDG areas.

The report estimates that there are 682 million people in the Asia and Pacific region without access to safe drinking water and over 2 billion without access to improved sanitation. These numbers represent 65% and 79% respectively of the total underserved population in the world.

It also reports that the prospects for reaching the safe water supply targets are generally good, while the sanitation situation is more problematic. There are, however, a number of countries currently and significantly off target, with quite a few even regressing in coverage as population growth rates out pace government efforts to expand coverage.

An annual investment of $8 billion, multiplied by the economic gains from time savings, would yield an estimated $54 billion annual return. A $16 billion annual investment would lead to improved water supply and sanitation for all.

"The achievability and affordability of meeting Target 10 should motivate some countries to set even more ambitious targets than the MDGs," Mr. Lohani said. "As the report correctly argues, 'It is the height of economic irrationality to not invest in these vital services.'" The report further states that there are few other areas of investment that will generate as high a rate and return and that are as effective at targeting the specific needs and capabilities of the poor.

Finally, the report reminds people that achieving Target 10 in 2015 is only a battle half won. "Like most of the MDG targets, Target 10 represents only a milestone - halving the proportion of people living without sustainable access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation," Mr. Lohani said.