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Coming out of the water closet

In the last edition of the OECD Observer we showed how investing in a gas-based kitchen can save lives. The simple water closet can also be a means to good health and dignity, and a source of economic wellbeing, says a new OECD report, Benefits of Investing in Water and Sanitation.

The health benefits we all know something about: improving access to safe water and sanitation could save the lives of 30% of children under 5 in developing countries, by cutting down on diarrhoeal diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery.

However, consider also how much time and water it takes for morning ablutions–to take a shower, brush your teeth, use the toilet, make breakfast and wash up afterwards. How much more time would it take if the closest access to clean water and plumbing was two kilometres or more down the road? No wonder Benefits of Investing in Water and Sanitation reports that meeting the Millennium Development Goal for sanitation–to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation–would add more than 200 million days of school attendance per year and raise labour productivity.

Furthermore, improving water and sanitation services could save a global $84 billion a year, according to the report. Simply by treating preventable infectious diarrhoea, health agencies could save $7 billion a year. Almost 10% of the global cost of disease could be prevented through better services.

But at what cost? The report estimates the investment in water and sanitationservices across 67 developed and developing countries at $18 billion a year, and an additional $54 billion for maintenance over the next two decades, an amount the authors admit will be hard to achieve. On the other hand, a bail-out package to help just one European country pay its debts has cost more than that amount in the past year alone. With almost 884 million people lacking access to safe water supplies and 2.6 billion without access to basic sanitation, an investment in sanitation across 67 countries would pay solid dividends in health and economic terms.

ISBN 978-92-64-10054-1

Available to buy online at the OECD bookshop

See www.oecdobserver.org/water

See also www.oecd.org/water

©OECD Observer No 285 Q2 2011