Nairobi, 22 March 2008- Investing in the world's freshwaters could be one of the keys to aiding global economic recovery.
A key also to accelerating a response to multiple emerging crises from the impacts of climate change and a shrinking natural resource base to the need to find jobs for two billion under-employed and unemployed people over the next ten years.
This week we launched a UNEP-commissioned report entitled a policy brief for a Global Green New Deal aimed at world leaders attending the G20 summit in London next month.
The report suggests that investing $750 billion of the $3 trillion stimulus packages in five key sectors can provide the biggest and most sustainable return on investment-crucially water, including shared transboundary waters is among those sectors.
The report says that investments in the water sector can be profitable not only for the people benefiting from clean water and sanitation but the businesses involved.
It estimates that the global water market for supply, sanitation and water efficiency is worth over $250 billion and is likely to grow to nearly $660 billion by 2020.
This represents new businesses and new employment prospects for developed and developing economies.
Meanwhile an investment of $15 billion a year towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal of halving by 2015 the number of people without sustainable access to safe water and basic sanitation could generate global economic benefits worth $38 billion annually.
$15 billion of these benefits would be in sub-Saharan Africa alone including less time away from work with water-related diseases and less money spent on medicines.
Some of the current stimulus packages are targeting this sector: In the United States $4 billion is to be provided for clean water infrastructure and $2 billion for drinking water infrastructure.
The Republic of Korea's stimulus package includes nearly $12 billion for improvements for four major rivers and the chance to generate 16,000 new jobs.
In Australia, the most recent stimulus package was only passed by parliament when provisions for investing in the Murray-Darling River system, which underpins almost half of the nation's agricultural output, were included.
The report also calls on developing country governments and international development organizations to back investments in other ecological infrastructure such as soils, forests, oceans, coral reefs and wetlands-many of which, such as forests, are linked with the provision of water for drinking, hydro-power and industrial uses.
Currently their contribution to national economies and global economic output and in particular to the livelihoods of the poor are undervalued despite their importance.
Yet the report estimates that for example the ecological services provided by India's forests including water supply account for over seven per cent of its overall GDP and account for close to 60 per cent of the "GDP of the poor".
Water will, if climate change is left unchecked and its use especially in agriculture remains inefficient, become one of the defining limits to human development and a compounding factor in human misery.
The sums of money, beginning to be spent to address the economic crisis represent funds almost unthinkable 12 months ago.
Allied to smart market mechanisms and a greening of overseas development aid and bilateral support, they have- if spent wisely and creatively- the potential to address multiple challenges, among them the key issue of water.