Water – a common good – better management needed

There is plenty of water for everybody. Most nations are using much less than they receive.

But it now seems that our water use is too high to be safe. There seems to be systemic water problems and local disruptions.

A global crisis may be in the making. Many big rivers do not reach the sea, there is not enough water to run the turbines producing electricity, freshwater fish is declining too fast, agricultural areas are drying up, wetlands are being damaged.

Global trends are adding to the problems:

  • increase in world population will drive up water consumption, water-thirsty foods will be increasingly used, mainly due to a change from vegetarian foods to meat.
  • climate change – the water cycle is turning faster, making areas too wet or too dry.
  • biofuels require lots of water

Improving efficiency is the answer. Industry has done it (use 10% of water), the big question is to get farmers (use 70-80% of water) to manage water better. Trade patterns should more closely reflect the amount of water embedded in traded goods – virtual water.

UNESCO thinks fundamental changes of behaviour are required: changing incentives, improving information flows, improving the way water use is governed.

Water is rarely priced. Basic information about water use is lacking. The governance of water is not good, decision-making processes are unsure, investment in water is haphazard.

Certifying water efficiency could be a start. A whole new system is what we need.

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