There remains very limited preparedness to price water effectively to reflect its scarcity value, despite growing political awareness of the economic value of water. At the Global Water Trends Workshop on 3 June 2014, Prof. Asit K. Biswas, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the LKY School, said, The world is plagued not by water scarcity, but by poor water management. A major issue is the shortage of safe drinking water. Over three billion people worldwide still lack access to adequate clean water.
Many speakers also cautioned that while water consciousness has increased, it has led to varied frameworks as well as diverging decisions. This creates confusing outcomes in terms of prioritising issues, providing solutions or in policymaking. For example, sanitation and sewerage coverage in cities have improved, but wastewater treatment or disposal facilities have not. Cities tend to simply dispose of raw sewage to nearby rivers, water-bodies or lands resulting in degraded eco-systems. Rather than solving the problem, we have simply swapped its form for another.
Another persistent urban phenomenon is the unaccounted loss from water supply systems during transaction and distribution, which could be as high as 50-60%. This not only reduces available water for human consumption but undermines the effectiveness of revenue collection for water utilities. Integrated Water Resource Management is under serious criticism because it means very different things to different people no country has managed to operationalise it over the past 60 years. In large projects such as river basin management and aquifer management, scale and proper information regarding the current situation or trend projection is often not considered, leading to obvious failures.
While greater corporate involvement is a positive sign and has been possible through increased public awareness and policy regulations, the present scenario has brought in high levels of risk for private sectors due to frequent changes in power and policies in democracies, discouraging higher private investment in water sector.
If water shortages are not addressed properly now, water conflicts within and among states, as well as among various sectors, may arise. This will elevate political complexity of water issues at national and international levels will be elevated. Prof. Beneditto P. F. Braga, President of the World Water Council, said, Hence increased political awareness is necessary to elevate competent water resource planning and management. This would help initiate effective demand management and financial assistance to improved water infrastructure for multi-purpose water resource development. Harnessing green water would also gain precedence.
There is no universal solution to an array of water problems. Instead, agencies and institutes should focus on case-specific analysis, understanding social, economic, political, and regional issues before prescribing solutions. A paradigm change is slowly evolving which sees water resource management from the lens of national development, regional growth, social well-being and poverty alleviation, which would aid efforts in increasing the resilience and flexibility of the delivery system.
Maitreyee Mukherjee is a Research Assistant at the Institute of Water Policy, LKYSPP. decb64_c3BwbWFtdUBudXMuZWR1LnNn_decb64