The value of achieving water security
Water is more than a great ecological asset of humankind. It is the common thread connecting all aspects of social development and well-being. The international water community is deeply involved in defining a global development agenda to place water security at the heart of the debate.
Water security occurs when all people, at all times, have access to water in sufficient quality and quantity to meet their human, economic and environmental needs. This principle relies on the ability to secure safe drinking water for health and food production, to effectively manage water across multiple uses for solid economic growth, and to guarantee healthy ecosystems to sustain life.
Major concerns on water security arose over the last decades. The increase in competing water uses, the degradation of the environment and challenges posed by global changes all contributed to the need to raise public awareness about water access, its use and conservation. Nowadays, almost 40% of the world’s population lives in water scarce regions due to changing climate patterns and a lack of adequate investments.
Water for economies to prosper
Water resources underpin economic growth and consumers´ behavior. In the coming decades, the demand for water will increase in every sector. The world is expected to face a 40% water deficit between forecast demand and available supply by 2030. All countries must now be prepared to tackle water shortages to meet their needs for power generation, food production, transportation, tourism, mining, and other uses.
As population is growing rapidly and living standards are increasing, our planet faces a soaring demand to meet new needs. The effects of climate change including floods and droughts are disrupting food production cycles and economic development. It has become imperative to create the necessary conditions to build resilient societies.
The management of water resources is paramount to preventing shortages. In China, nearly 50% of the national GDP is produced by businesses located in water-scarce provinces. In Chile, which produces one third of the world’s copper, more than 90 % of production comes from water-stressed regions. In Australia, economic instruments including water pricing and water markets have produced excellent results during drought periods.
The value of water to secure our future
The capacity to manage the uncertainties of too little or too much water is central to the ability to grow and prosper, and requires infrastructure. Certainly, the impact of lack of infrastructure is much greater in developing countries. While losses due to floods and droughts in GDP percentage in developing countries represent an impressive 14%, in developed countries it is four times less. In countries like the US where massive infrastructure has been built, the cumulative benefits from avoided losses in case of floods reach an impressive USD700 billion.
It is clear that water security depends on water infrastructure. However, water security also calls for effective water governance and requires having solid institutions to manage water resources efficiently and economic mechanisms to incentivize efficient demand management.
Water is located at the crossroads of alleviating poverty and mitigating risks. It requires anticipating the consequences of global changes by putting water resource management at the heart of our development strategy. It will depend on our capacity to establish sound institutions and make heavy investments in infrastructure to allow trade-offs serving all stakeholders and sectors. By doing so, we will offer greater returns on investment to our societies and major savings in the long-term.
Water security is a lens through which we plan infrastructure, build climate resilience and prepare for long-term sustainability. Adaptation responses to global changes must converge with the goal of water security for all.
Water as the key for sustainable growth
We must recognize the interdependencies and common goals embodied by the principle of water security so as to create the conditions for the long-term well-being of cities, economies, societies, environments, humanity and, indeed, the planet as a whole. The technical solutions already exist. However, economic incentives and innovative means for financing water infrastructure, along with effective governance that will allow the proper and efficient management of water resources systems are key for sustainable growth.
Benedito Braga is the President of the World Water Council.
He is professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Escola Politecnica of University of Sao Paulo. Mr. Braga chaired the International Steering Committee of the 6th World Water Forum held in Marseille, France. He also served as Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Energy and Sanitation of the State of Sao Paulo and was a member of the Gulbenkian Think Tank for the future of water and mankind based in Lisbon. Before that, he served on the Board of the Brazilian National Water Agency (ANA) as well as at UNESCO/International Hydrological Program committee where he was elected President of its Intergovernmental Council. He was the President of the International Water Resources Association (1998- 2000). Mr. Braga holds a Ph.D. in Water Resources from Stanford University, USA.
About the World Water Council
The World Water Council is an international organization that aims to promote awareness, build political commitment and trigger action on critical water issues at all levels, including the highest decision-making level, to facilitate the efficient conservation, protection, development, planning, management and use of water in all its dimensions on an environmentally sustainable basis for the benefit of all life on earth. The World Water Council, based in Marseille, France, was created in 1996. It brings together around 300 member organizations from more than 50 different countries. By providing a platform to encourage debates and exchanges of experience, the Council aims to reach a common strategic vision on water resources and water services management amongst all stakeholders in the water community. In the process, the Council also catalyzes initiatives and activities, whose results converge toward its flagship product, the World Water Forum.
Next edition will be held in in Daegu & Gyeongbuk from 12 to 17 April 2015. Some 35,000 participants from about 170 countries – heads of states, public agencies, international organizations, enterprises, academia, civil society, NGOs, journalists, citizens etc. – are expected to participate in the 7th World Water Forum.