Are countries investing enough in sustainable water management?

Moving to a more sustainable long-term model for managing water supplies is essential if we are to avert a future water crisis. However, many countries still lack access to even basic clean water. The World Bank estimates that the poorest countries need to spend around $150 billion a year just to deliver safe and clean water for all. In this climate, is it realistic to expect countries to achieve water sustainability? Where do we stand regarding water sustainability at the moment and what can be done to improve the situation in the future?

What are countries spending on sustainable water management at the moment?  

The world is facing a future water crisis. Research suggests that around 40% of the globe may face a deficit in water supplies by 2030. This is expected to disproportionately affect poorer countries with hotter climates.  

To avoid a crisis, all countries need to address the challenges of how they manage their water supplies and look to improve their water infrastructure to become more efficient. However, the current picture is mixed. Wealthier countries have begun to move towards more sustainable systems, although much still needs to be done, whereas many poorer countries still lack the basic infrastructure to carry out the necessary changes.  

According to the 2019 Environmental Sustainability Index - which incorporates drinking water quality, sanitation and wastewater treatment – the best performing countries include Switzerland, France, Denmark, Sweden and the UK whereas the likes of Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Democratic Republic of Congo and Bangladesh are at the bottom of the table.  

However, recently released WRI research has found that following a sustainable water management plan can be achieved across the world at the cost of between 1-8% of annual GDP per country.  

Wealthier Countries – Making Improvements to Current Management Systems  

Wealthier countries are in the best position to transition to more sustainable systems, however they generally perform worse when it comes to water footprint (gallons of water used per person per day) as much of the footprint is made up of industrial and commercial use of water.  

In addition to this, richer countries generally have centralized infrastructure when it comes to water management, which can generate more waste through challenges such as centralized leakage.  Problems have reached a crisis point in some countries, with global cities such as Tokyo, Los Angeles, London and Cape Town at risk of a “day zero” scenario due to water scarcity.  

The WRI has highlighted that countries in the top half of economic performers can improve water management sustainability at the cost of less than 2% of GDP. This would include better management practices, improving sanitation and water quality, reducing waste and moving towards more water reuse and recycling. Some countries have taken a lead in achieving water sustainability, with the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Canada and Australia all having cities scoring highly on the sustainable water index.  

Poorer Countries – Greater Challenges But a Chance to Buck the Trend?  

Poorer countries face their own distinct challenges when it comes to water management. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 2 billion people (more than one-quarter of the global population) in around 90 countries lack access to clean drinking water.  

In addition to this, the WRI estimates that 17 of the poorest countries will need international development assistance to achieve sustainable water management and water security.  

But it is in the developing areas of the world where implementing sustainable water management practices could yield the greatest results. Although more investment is needed, research has found that sustainable practices could generate $6.80 for every $1 invested over the longer term.  

Developing countries aren't inhibited by archaic and creaky centralized water infrastructure systems that are prone to leaks and difficult to maintain. This means that, with the right levels of investment, they can benefit from the latest technology to establish renewable decentralized supplies that are more efficient, sustainable and cheaper. The WHO estimates that sub-Saharan African countries could achieve sustainable management practices at the annual cost of between $15-70 per person.  

Water Experts can provide the necessary advice and expertise on water savings and transitioning to more sustainable water management practices. Our services include performing a full water audit to identify areas for improvement and we also advise on sustainable products to implement circular water management and a decentralized and renewable supply of water such as the Q-Drop.  

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