Countries in the Middle East and North Africa are poised to gain from annual economic benefits of US$4.9 billion (Dh17.99bn) if they can find a way to raise $79bn needed to provide full access to drinking water, a new study shows.
The good news is access to funding is getting easier as banks earmark billions of dollars for environmental investments.
Clean water has never been easy to come by in the arid Middle East. Much of it is produced through desalination at significant environmental and economic cost, or effectively imported through purchases of agricultural produce from other countries.
Maplecroft, a risk analysis and mapping firm, rates all six GCC states as having levels of access to water that pose "extreme risk" to populations and business operations.
A study from HSBC estimates providing universal access to potable water in the Bric (Brazil, Russia, India and China) nations alone would cost about $725bn but would add $125bn to their combined annual GDP, equivalent to about 1 per cent in additional economic growth.
"We're thinking about climate change as a real factor, not a future threat. The way that climate change is expressed is through changes in water," says Nick Robins, the head of HSBC's climate centre.
"It's not just a project for the future … that would be challenging enough, but with the disruptive factor of climate change this could be really quite serious for the global economy."
The bank calculates the world economy would receive a boost through the potential reduction in days off work or school lost to illness from water-borne diseases, ultimately leading to higher productivity among workers.
A 2007 report from the World Bank estimated that pollution of the Middle East and North Africa region's already scarce water resources costs between 0.5 to 2.5 per cent of GDP annually. With industrial use of water increasing rapidly in the region as a result of high levels of economic growth, those pressures are likely to intensify.
Access to finance for water-related investments is becoming easier as global lenders announce green initiatives targeting the water sector.
As growth forecasts slide across emerging markets, banks worldwide are pledging billions of dollars for environmental investments - as much a means of bolstering their environmental credentials as ensuring future profitability.
Although the sums represent a small fraction of total lending, banks are keen not to be outdone. Last month, Goldman Sachs earmarked $40bn over a 10-year period for investment in environmental initiatives. In response, Bank of America Merrill Lynch pledged $50bn over the same time period soon after.
HSBC launched a $100m, five-year water programme this month, with a focus on cleaning water supplies in river basins including the Ganges, Nile and Indus rivers.
The programme is part of the bank's philanthropic efforts and does not seek to generate profits, Mr Robins said.
The costs of allowing strains on existing water supplies to intensify present a simple economic rationale for businesses to invest in water, Mr Robins adds.
"In the business world, unless you invest your assets base, they'll depreciate. The same applies to the environmental asset base," he says.
"Water is a key natural resource that's part of our natural capital. In that strategic context we really need to maintain and enhance our water resource base to deliver the growth in incomes."