Invest $1 in tackling water shortage, get $5 return

10 most populous river basins will contribute 25 per cent of world GDP by 2050

Few resources are more fundamental to health and development than water. Agriculture, energy and industry rely on it, and access to safe, clean water can have an instant and dramatic impact on individuals and communities, helping them to move out of poverty and secure their livelihoods.

Yet, nearly 800 million people are without access to safe water, 2.5 billion people are living without access to basic sanitation and a quarter of the world’s population live in ecosystems that are under threat from water scarcity.

Change requires rapid, collaborative action worldwide and a significant investment – both public and private – but making the case for such investment is a complex matter. Addressing these issues has clear humanitarian and development benefits, and a new report from Frontier Economics, commissioned by HSBC, presents clear evidence and strong rationale of the significant potential of water to help economies grow at a local and global level.

According to new findings from the report, Exploring the links between water and economic growth, securing universal access to clean, safe water and sanitation would call for significant investment, whether from governments or businesses, of some US$725bn – but these investments would yield real returns.

Achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) on water supply and sanitation worldwide would amount to an equivalent of more than $56bn per annum in potential economic gains between now and 2015; and providing universal access to safe water and sanitation would imply potential economic gain of $220bn per annum. Providing universal access in Brazil, India, and China alone would amount to an equivalent of more than $113bn.

Frontier Economics also found that globally the average return on each dollar invested in universal access was just under $5, even after taking maintenance costs into account. In Latin America the figure is $16 while in some African countries, the capital investment would be paid back in only three years. Several countries in Africa and Latin America would stand to gain an average of more than 15 per cent of their annual GDP from achieving universal access.

Alongside water and sanitation, there is also a strong economic argument for an investment in water resource management which includes; efficiently sharing or allocating the available water supply; ensuring water consuming industries are using it as efficiently as possible; protecting water quality and sustaining eco-systems and; managing water infrastructure.

The report reveals the world’s 10 most populous river basins are forecast to contribute 25 per cent of global GDP by 2050 – a sharp rise from a current 10 per cent and a figure greater than the combined future economies of US, Germany and Japan. However, as they stand, seven in 10 of those river basins face significant or severe water scarcity by 2050, meaning the forecasted economic growth in these basins may not materialise without investment in sustainable water management.

These findings make it clear that the future of river basins is critical for global economic growth and the economic rationale for improving access to freshwater and sanitation is strong and clear.

The HSBC Water Programme, a new $100m, five-year partnership with WWF, WaterAid and Earthwatch will tackle water risks in river basins; bring safe water and improved sanitation to over a million people; and raise awareness about the global water challenge - taking one step towards achieving change, delivering benefits to communities in need, and enabling economies to prosper.

Over the next five years, we will continue to share the lessons we learn and the data we gather, in order to encourage others to join us in recognising the value of water, benefiting communities today, and unlocking growth for years to come.

Please follow our progress at www.thewaterhub.org where you can also access the full research findings.

Note: The world’s 10 most populous river basins are: Ganges, Yangtze (Chang Jiang), Indus, Nile, Huang He (Yellow river), Huai He, Niger, Hai, Krishna and the Danube.

A bather in the Ganges river. Photograph: Getty Images

Nick Robins is head of HSBC's Climate Change Centre of Excellence

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Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s echoes of New Labour

The fall of Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP.

If there was one thing the SNP and New Labour had in common, it was the hope. Both offered themselves as a burning torch of optimism to publics that had become tired of the same old gang running things in the same old way. Both promised a fairer, more equal society and fearless embrace of the modern world with an appealing freshness and energy. The voters bought it: both won big, repeatedly.

The thing is, if you’re elected on a mandate to be different, you’d better be different. In many areas, for a long time, New Labour managed to be just that. The smiling PM with the huge majority pushed through bold policies, some of which even worked. Tony Blair’s strategy was so successful that the Conservatives and the Lib Dems reshaped themselves in his likeness.

But, as some say, it’s the hope that kills you. When the inevitable attritional realities of governing start to weigh; when you make, as you will, bad decisions; when the list of enemies grows long; when you’ve simply had your time; you’ll fall like all the rest. Only, when you’ve soared so close to the sun, you have that much further to plummet.

The fall of Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP. The debate on 21 May between the Scottish party leaders was, I think, a foretaste of a sure outcome – a public that until recently was politically and emotionally invested in the Nats is growing restive. In time, this will turn to disenchantment, then anger, then revenge at the ballot box. That is the unbreakable cycle of democratic politics.

Some of us have warned since the start that the SNP had over-promised and could only under-deliver. Its raison d’être is independence; everything else is just another brick to build the path. And so its education reform cannot be either brave or unpopular, even if it needs to be so to work, because the SNP cannot afford to alienate teachers or the teaching unions, or parents.

The same goes for the NHS, and doctors and health unions and patients. All the separatists have done – all they could have done, given their nature – is deploy the rhetoric of the radical while body-swerving hard choices and conflict at any cost. And where they have found themselves taking flak, they’ve pointed south to Westminster: “It’s no’ our fault, it’s theirs.”

Yet the voters show signs of wearying. Middle Scotland is either ignored or maligned by the middle-class socialists who drive the nation’s political debate, but it is where elections are won. The SNP has secured the support of enough of these people to win every recent election in style, but somewhere along the way the party seems to have forgotten this was a mandate not for independence, but for good government. Ten years in to SNP rule, each new audit of public services seems to wail like a warning siren.

So, during the debate, it was Nicola Sturgeon, not the Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, or Labour’s Kezia Dugdale, who found herself in the audience’s cross-hairs.

There were the teachers, who complained about the damp squib that is the Curriculum for Excellence, the SNP’s flagship education policy; who pointed out that a fifth of primary pupils are leaving without basic literacy and numeracy skills; and who warned that lowering the standard of exams in order to push up the pass rate was not a mark of success.

Then there was the nurse who said she had been forced to use food banks (the existence of which has been used repeatedly by the SNP as a stick with which to beat the Conservatives and Westminster). “I can’t manage on the salary I have [which is set by the Scottish government],” Claire Austin told the panel. “You have no idea how demoralising it is to work in the NHS.” She delivered the killer line of the evening: “Do you think your perceived obsession with independence might actually cost you . . . in this election?”

The list of reasonable criticisms of the SNP’s governance is growing. The ideological obsession with free university tuition for Scottish students is increasingly seen as a sop to the better-off. Sturgeon’s demand for a quick second independence referendum, when a worried Middle Scotland was focused on what Brexit might mean for its future, was tone deaf.

The SNP has another problem (one that New Labour, for all its flaws, didn’t face): its doctrine of infallibility. The Nationalists’ constitution explicitly prohibits SNP elected members from criticising the party, its policies or each other. Although total unity is useful when you’re on the climb, it starts to look bonkers when the cracks are showing.

The word “cult” has long dogged the SNP. The party has tried hard to normalise its electoral appeal while keeping the flame of independence burning, but this has been a difficult balancing act. The pro-independence mob is an ugly thing when unleashed (and it has suited the leadership to open the cage door at times). After the debate, Claire Austin found herself at its mercy as the Nats briefed – wrongly – that she was the wife of a Tory councillor. The SNP branch in Stirling said, Tebbitishly, that if she was having to use food banks, “Maybe she needs to tighten her belt a bit more?”

Joanna Cherry, a QC, MP and the SNP’s home affairs spokesperson, was forced to apologise for spreading “Twitter rumours” about Austin. The ravening horde has largely kept its head down since the 2014 independence referendum, but it hasn’t gone away – it is not enough for the SNP’s critics to be debated: they must be destroyed. This isn’t the behaviour of a normal political party.

I have a feeling that when the SNP does fall, it will fall quite quickly. Its belief in its infallibility, and its inability or unwillingness to do self-deprecation or apology, will increasingly exasperate voters. There is nothing to suggest the current public policy failings will be addressed, and many signs that things will get worse.

How then do you arrest your fall? The SNP offered hope and promised it was different, and the voters believed it. The sense of betrayal could make for a very hard landing indeed. 

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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