Managing Water

By Shannon Cullen and Cynthia Yuan

A recently published study by Oxford University researchers on water sustainability examined not only how water is invaluable to people, the environment, agriculture, and industry, but that safe drinking water is an imperative for human survival. In fact, the amount of money put into safely-managed, universal drinking water and sanitation is substantial. Water is also essential for sustainable development, a part of each of the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, ranging from ending poverty and hunger to sustaining societies and peace.

The Controversy

As global concern over water security has grown, so has been attention to the adverse effects of water scarcity, pollution, and flooding. In 2015, Oxford researchers reported that the economic losses of water shortages, insufficient water supply and sanitation, and flooding would amount to roughly 500 billion U.S. dollars yearly. Last month, the World Bank revealed that the cost of a drought to cities is four times greater than that of a flood. A single drought in rural Africa can cause a chain reaction of deprivation and poverty for generations.

According to the Oxford study, the expanding consensus across the globe is that challenge of managing water is about more than money. It is about the underlying governance challenge of devising effective water policies and investments. Dustin Garrick of Oxford said, “The objective of our research is to show why we need to rethink the value of water, and how to go about it, by leveraging technology, science and incentives to punch through stubborn governance barriers. Valuing water requires that we value institutions.” Richard Damania of World Bank Water Practice also stated, “Multiple policies will be needed for multiple goals. Current water management policies are outdated and unsuited to addressing the water related challenges of the 21st century.” The international team at Oxford also suggested recently that managing and valuing water demands organized action across four priorities: measurement, valuation, trade-offs, and capable institutions for allocating and financing water.

Our Take

            As an environmental matter, the world is at a turning point. Nations across the world are finally realizing that current policies and human water habits are not sustainable. The recent research performed and pushing for change in U.N. goals is absolutely necessary for positive change to actually occur. Water waste and inappropriate handling of safe, clean water has reached a point where nations are spending billions of dollars on water. Future policies will have to make water a very high priority so generations to come and the planet can manage water sustainably. These policies should follow Oxford’s suggestion of action across four priorities: measurement, valuation, trade-offs, and capable institutions for allocating and financing water. If we measure the amount of water necessary for sustaining agriculture, the planet, and human life, we can assess its value and place more restrictions on the usage of water. We should also compromise, using trade-offs, to use less water for unnecessary or excessive things and put that water to better use. Allocating and financing water to keep track of water usage and limit waste will be essential to water sustainability. Water should be placed in the right hands for responsible and appropriate usage of the precious resource. Ultimately, making laws and policies more strict and penalizing water waste will be crucial for the sake of the environment and life across the globe.