The Millennium Development Goals

We now have less than 6 years to go to meet the challenges of the Millennium Development Goals. The water and sanitation crisis, if inappropriately managed, can prevent and undermine the progress made thus far in reducing poverty, in achieving universal primary education and in improving people’s primary health. Even if the targets are met by 2015, there are still expected to remain 800 million people without access to clean water and 1.8 billion without sanitation facilities.

It is estimated that achievement of the overall Millennium Development Goals will require an additional 140,000 and 192,000 people to be provided with clean water and sanitation facilities every day from now to 2015. In Economists’ terms an investment of US$11.3 billion per year is needed to meet the drinking water and sanitation target, yielding a total payback of US$ 84 billion a year:

    • At current trends, sub-Saharan Africa may reach the water target by 2040 and the sanitation target in 2076
    • South Asia is 4 years off track for their sanitation targets
    • Arab states are 27 years off track to reach water targets
    • On a country by country basis, the water target will be missed by 234 million people with 55 countries off track
    • The sanitation target will be missed by 430 million people with 74 countries off track
    • The additional cost of financing the MDGs by 2015 is estimated at £10 billion per year. This price tag compares with less than 5 days spending on global military expenditure and less than half of what rich countries spend each year on mineral water

Achieving the MDGs would result in:

  • 203,000 fewer child deaths in 2015 and more than 1 million children’s lives saved over the next decade
  • An additional 272 million days gained in school attendance per year as a result of reduced episodes of diarrhoea alone
  • Total economic benefits of about US$38 billion annually. To Sub-Saharan Africa this would amount to about $15 billion and would represent 60% of it’s 2003 Aid flow

Where are the Priorities?

Water and sanitation are services that the poor almost always cite as among their top three priorities. However, they are treated as marginal issues among the international development community and governments. The volume of spending in the sector has remained largely stagnant over the last ten years, and it has actually fallen in terms of the relative increases in the overall aid spending and spending on health and education. Public spending on water and sanitation is typically less than 0.5% of GDP. In Ethiopia the military budget is 10 times that of the water and sanitation budget and in Pakistan this amount is 47 times higher. Bilateral and multilateral donors neither seem to prioritise water and sanitation in their aid agendas, failing to acknowledge the important links and benefits to other areas of development. And yet, the estimated economic benefits of investing in drinking-water and sanitation include:

  • On average, for every US dollar invested in water and sanitation provides an economic return of eight US dollars
  • Some 272 million school attendance days a year gained
  • 1.5 billion healthy days per year for children under five years of age
  • Values of deaths averted, based on discounted future earnings, amounting to US $3.6 billion a year
  • Health-care savings of US$ 7 billion a year for health agencies and US$ 340 million for individuals