Huge new investments in water infrastructure and radical changes in how global resources are managed are needed to avert "a systemic crisis that is both local and global" with a 40% shortfall in freshwater supply expected by 2030, according to a new report by the Global Commission on the Economics of Water.

With more than 2 billion people already lacking safe water infrastructure, last year's unprecedented floods, droughts, cyclones and heat waves around the world are a sign "of things to come," states the report, Turning the Tide, A Call to Collective Action.

"We are seeing the consequences ... of our mismanagement of water globally for decades," the report states. "We have changed rainfall patterns and failed to preserve freshwater ecosystems, to manage demand to avoid overuse, to prevent contamination, to foster recycling and to develop and share water-saving technologies."

Established last year by the Netherlands' government with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the commission sets out a seven-point plan for this decade enabling "us to convert water from a growing global tragedy to immense global opportunity."

The plan aims to "bring a new direction to policies and collaboration, innovation and investment, and finance, so that we conserve and use water more efficiently, and ensure that everyone has access to the water they need."

As well as various institutional changes, the commission identifies the need for the tripling of investment to achieve universal access to safely managed water. Up to $400 billion a year of extra investment is needed in low- and middle-income countries "just to achieve universal access to clean drinking water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030."

"To invest at scale and spur innovation ... the public sector needs to proactively take a systems approach and shape solutions with the private sector in a symbiotic way, co-investing in technology, skills and infrastructure," the commission says. 

While government have traditionally underinvested in water, "private participation has in several instances led to improvements in delivery efficiency and standards," it notes. But faulty regulation has led to failures in private provision.

"Regulatory frameworks must provide the right incentives for both operational efficiencies and investment in long-term system resilience. They must seek to avoid rent-seeking or value-extractive behavior ... and create long-term value for the public.

For this decade, the commission calls for urgent investment in freshwater storage, improved distribution efficiency and reducing leaks, which now account for around 40% of urban piped water, it reports. 

And water recycling should be greatly increased, the commission adds. "Industrial water accounts for about 20% of today’s global water withdrawals but only 20% is currently treated and much less is recycled."