Reliable access to satisfactory water and sanitation services eliminates the “coping costs” that are necessary when the services are inadequate or unavailable. Studies show that coping costs can reach 20% of household incomes. Poor households are usually the most seriously affected and burdened by coping costs.
The cost of providing and maintaining a hospital bed is many times that of delivering a water and sanitation service. Water and sanitation investments are therefore very cost- effective solutions for public health.
The loss of educational opportunity related to lack of adequate water and sanitation services is a serious handicap in many cases. The costs of this are considerable to both individuals and the economy of a country as a whole. Poor education and poor health that result from lack of adequate water, sanitation and pollution removal have serious implications for employment, productivity and purchasing power, and therefore directly affect societal wellbeing and economic performance.
The benefits from the provision of basic water supply and sanitation services such as those implied by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)* are massive and far outstrip costs. For example, the achievement of the MDGs for water and sanitation would generate benefits of $84 billion per year with a benefit to cost ratio of 7:1.
Three-quarters of these benefits stem from time gains, i.e., time that is gained by not having to walk long distances to fetch water or to queue at the source. Most other benefits are linked to a reduction of water-borne diseases such as reduced incidence of diarrhea, malaria or dengue fever. Almost 10% of the global burden of disease could be prevented through water, sanitation and hygiene interventions. Children are most affected, with 20% of disability adjusted life-years (DALYs) in children under 14 attributable to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.
* The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty (including halving the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation) to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 – form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions.