AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Huge investment in global water supplies is urgently needed to turn around a humanitarian crisis in which billions of people are forced to rely on unsafe water, a United Nations-backed body said Monday.
The $70 billion to $80 billion a year now spent on giving people safe water should leap to $180 billion, with the private sector providing most of the investment, the Paris-based World Commission on Water for the 21st Century said.
"The current water crisis, in which 1 billion people do not have access to safe water and 2 billion go without adequate sanitation, will worsen and affect millions more, unless action is taken now," it said in a statement.
The multilateral group, supported by the U.N. and the World Bank, will present its recommendations to the World Water Forum, a six-day conference which starts in The Hague on March 17.
The forum will bring together water experts and politicians to address international issues including the right of access to water and its geopolitical consequences, flood and drought protection, and sustainable agriculture.
It follows a first World Water Forum held in Morocco three years ago, which called for "a new water ethic" to combat water scarcity in many parts of the world.
The Commission estimates that increased investment could fairly quickly cut the number of people without sanitation facilities to about 330 million.
"The private sector must take the lead in providing services, because of the large amounts of money that is needed," the group's chairman Ishmail Serageldin said.
Governments would have to become enablers and regulators with targeted subsidies and community support, he added.