• A $60 billion return on a crap investment?

    Posted by Ben

    25 July, 2012

    Politicians sure do love a good cost-benefit analysis. When resources are scarce, and since there's always another good cause (or a more politically attractive one) to invest public money in, it's good to have some sort of evidence of return on investment.

    Of course, cost-benefit isn't the only thing that matters when it comes to public policy. 

    However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has just released a cost-benefit analysis that I hope every Australian politician reads: Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage*.

    Looking beyond the yawn-inducing title, though, the report is mind-blowing. It assesses the total economic benefits of meeting the Millennium Development Goal targets as 60 billion US dollars each and every year, through time savings from reduced illness, reduced health care costs and lives saved. Just hold that thought for a moment; halving the proportion of people in the world without access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation would bring a net economic benefit of $60 billion every year. Most of this benefit (around $54 billion), by the way, would come from achieving the more neglected sanitation target.

    The report demonstrates, yet again, that investments in water and sanitation are among the most cost-effective public health interventions that governments anywhere can make. It makes the case for looking beyond the Millennium Development Goal targets, of merely halving the proportion of people without safe water and improved sanitation, and looks at what we need to do to achieve universal access to the these fundamental human rights.

    The report doesn't hide the challenge we face. To achieve the sanitation MDG target, coverage must increase globally from 67% to 75% of the world's population between 2010 and 2015. Sadly, at the current rate of progress, global sanitation coverage is predicted to be just 67% in 2015 – 580 million people short of the MDG target. Most of the people missing out on clean water and sanitation, too, are the poorest and most vulnerable people primarily in rural areas.

    Which is why we launched our Give Poverty the Flush campaign in the first place and partnered with WaterAid to implement Australia's first-ever Toilet Tour. If you haven't signed up for the campaign action, or if your community isn't yet part of the toilet tour, then now is the time to join the action. We've seen some progress with Australia investing more in water and sanitation through our aid budget, but it still falls well short of our fair share of the global effort needed.

    Oh, and speaking of effort, I don't know if you've seen this.

    Man on a ToiletMan on a ToiletMan on a ToiletOne guy sitting on a toilet for 51 hours to raise funds for a production run of campaigning 'Who Gives a Crap?' toilet paper. It's that kind of creative, crazy commitment that makes me think, "Why didn't I think of sitting on a toilet for 51 hours to raise funds for a production run of campaigning toilet paper?" Because when it comes to tackling poverty, we need more creative, crazy commitment.




    *Man, WHO really need a better marketing department. 50% of people surveyed fell asleep halfway through the title and didn't actually make it to reading the article. Come on guys, work on your titles... How about WHO Gives a Crap About Crap? Or even Don't Take This Sitting Down – Toilets for All?

    Ben Thurley is the Political Engagement Coordinator for Micah Challenge Australia. Ben previously worked with TEAR Australia and has just spent four years in Nepal volunteering as an advocacy advisor to a local Nepali organisation.