The Urgency of Water Security

Everyone knows that water is essential to the life of the planet and to the prosperity of its people.

What fewer people know—and what political leaders are failing to address—is that the increasing pressures of climate change, population growth, urbanisation, and evolving energy needs, are together putting unprecedented pressure on our finite freshwater resources. We've got to do something about it now.

Feeding the world

Feeding the world has been a top priority for decades. The task is not getting easier. It is estimated that over the next 40 years the world will need to double its food production to meet growing populations – set to increase by around 50% over the next 50 years. As is well known, agriculture already uses more water – a finite resource – than any other human activity. This means efforts to increase food production will have to be undertaken with less water, especially as climate change will put our water resources under even greater stress.

A world of cities

It isn’t just that there are more people to feed, it is where they live. The world’s urban population is expected to increase from around 3.3 billion today to over 6 billion by 2050. Partly as a result of economic development, we’ve become an urban world so rapidly that cities, especially in the developing world, have not kept up with ensuring clean water supplies, sanitation and wastewater treatment for their burgeoning populations.

Depleted resources

South Asia and the Near East/North Africa have exhausted much of their rain-fed land potentials and depleted a significant share of their renewable waters. More than 1.2 billion people live in river basins where absolute water scarcity and increasing shortages are serious concerns. Expanding land under cultivation is possible in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America but requires adequate farming practices, increased investments and sustainable management of land and water resources.

Working together across sectors

The actions needed to move towards achieving water security need to be embedded into national development plans, such as poverty reduction strategies and comprehensive development frameworks. There is a need to bring together fragmented institutional responsibilities and interests in water, such as finance, planning, agriculture, energy, tourism, industry, education and health.

Achieving water security thus requires cooperation between different water users, and between those sharing river basins and aquifers, within a framework that allows for the protection of vital eco-systems from pollution and other threats.

Social change

Building that resilience means financing water infrastructure. But it also means reforming institutions, building their capacity and knowledge, and promoting good governance. This is about financing water resources management, a long-neglected area. Strong links need to be built between water and finance experts to tackle chronic underinvestment and the waste of scarce funds.

Sound economic and social arguments influence decision makers. This means that we must demonstrate why water, and better water resources management in particular, is important for development. Simply drafting water resource management plans does not solve water problems. What counts is how realistic the plans are, what political buy-in they have, what funds are available to implement them, and how much they contribute to development priorities, poverty alleviation and ecosystem health. Making the economic case for management of our water resources and investing in water is crucial if governments and decision makers are to understand the irreplaceable contribution that water and its sustainable management make to the way we live.

Water is key to development

Whether it is food security, nutrition security, poverty reduction, economic growth, energy production, human health—water is the nexus. Water is a key factor in the achievement of each of the Millennium Development Goals. Without water security, there will be no food security, energy security will be compromised and poverty reduction and economic growth will not be sustainable.

Because water is central to development, investing in water delivers immediate benefits as well as long-term social, economic and environmental resilience.

Posted: 2010-04-22

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