The Human Impact

New water policies are key to tackling scarcity – SIWI analysts

July 24, 2012

Reining in “water anarchy” due to inadequate regulation is one way to avoid the threat of water scarcity and secure resources for the future, according to a water expert at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).

Hakan Tropp, director of the United Nations Development Programme water governance facility at SIWI, told AlertNet in an interview that governments should respond to consumer trends in developing countries by instituting new water management policies to avoid future shortfalls.

In a separate interview, Ana Cascao, a programme manager with SIWI who specialises in hydropolitics, said that managing controversy between countries while putting in place a proper balance of water and energy use will help protect water resources from political risks.

Q: How do you see water scarcity reshaping the world by 2050?

 

A: Hakan Tropp:

We can’t take a business as usual approach. That’s been going on for too long…. In many places in the world, water use is already at very unsustainable levels… Increasingly, we have to look at the demand side and also the governance side of water and strengthen institutions – at times really make the hard choices in water resource allocation and re-allocation … It’s also an issue of getting the priorities right.

I just came from India some weeks ago where the whole country is really dependent on groundwater for food production as well as water supply and sanitation services. And now, in many states you have rapidly falling groundwater levels.

This is an unsustainable use of water which can’t continue in the long run. It’s basically like a groundwater anarchy situation. If you have land rights you also have the right to pump out as much water as you can basically – so there are very few restrictions and very few regulations on groundwater.

A: Ana Cascao:

We have different types of of scarcity — it can be physical scarcity like in the Middle East where there is very little water available … although there are groundwater resources, they are already being exploited to an unsustainable level – so there we have a resource that will become critical.

But in African countries or Latin America we have a type of scarcity that is more induced by mismanagement. At the global level there are water resources available for everybody right now in 2012. I’m an optimist by definition and I think that with good policies and good institutions in place it will be possible to improve the access of people around the world to water and food.

Of course, I don’t want to paint a rosy picture and tell you that everything is working and that by 2050 we won’t have any problems … climate change might be a factor, the new factor that we don’t really know.

Q: Which areas are of most concern and why?

A: Hakan Tropp:

Many parts of the Middle East and Northern Africa for many years now have faced water shortages. These regions will continue to be water scarce and will face lots of challenges in the future. India, for example, where you have a population that is increasing fairly rapidly … is a country that’s made great economic progress in the past 15 years.

In a country like India you have very strong drivers – very rapid increase in water demand. Where you have growing populations, you also have changes in consumption preferences. As people move to cities they will start to demand more things in life – they want to have a modern, urban lifestyle. Industry in India is growing rapidly.

In china, as the economy grows there is a tendency to consume more meat. And that is very much more water intense to produce as compared to wheat and rice. To produce one kilo of beef you need 10 times the amount of water and energy as compared to producing one kilo of rice.

In India, we’ll be facing situations of decreasing water supply due to climate issues as well as increasing demands for water and this is coupled with situations of insufficient management systems, very insufficient governance systems – it’s like a triple squeeze on water: – water supply is decreasing, demands are on the increase at the same time institutional systems cannot handle the increases in an acceptable way.

I can also see some of these things playing out around the Nile Basin. I think in upstream countries — in Egypt — in the near future it’s likely they’ll start to demand more water from the Nile …This is part of the whole political dynamics around the Nile, the  security dynamics around the Nile. You also have a new country — South Sudan – this is also something that can make the collaboration over Nile waters even more complex.

A: Ana Cascao:

One is the Middle East — it’s not just because of water scarcity, but also because in political terms it’s a region that’s much more problematic because of other issues – it’s possible to have a water war or a conflict over water in the Middle East. And we see that between Israel and Palestine [Palestinian Territories] for example, water is not the main issue of conflict, but can become a source of conflict among other issues.

Turkey has already reached the red line of availability and demand — they can’t meet the demand. Also India and China are becoming big consumers and can’t find water to meet demand at home. So they are buying in Africa where there is water supply and the land available to grow food … what we see now is that millions of acres of land are being leased to foreign companies in Africa to produce food and cattle.

Two critical regions are the Middle East and North Africa, and on the other hand, Sub-Saharan Africa, which has water resources that are not being used for its own population.

The Nile is the longest river in the world. It serves 11 countries. So there’s water available for different uses, but at the core of water problems is a political one – if agreements were in place for better management of the Nile there wouldn’t be problems in 2050 because there is enough water available. But if each country continues developing its borders according to national objectives and national interests then there might be a conflict of interest.

Q: What are the most serious factors driving water shortages?

A: Hakan Tropp:

You have growing populations. You have urbanisation processes escalating in many developing countries. You have the fact of changing food preferences as economies are developing and growing.

In many cases you have completely inadequate governance systems dealing with situations where there is no regulation. It’s close to being water anarchy.

For most developing countries these issues will be more important than climate change impact over the next forty to fifty years … If we don’t get a handle on that then it will be so much more difficult to deal with climate change impact.

A: Ana Cascao:

Take China and India – economically they have been developing very fast and people want more. They want more things. They want more energy. They want more food. They have more needs and this leads to a bigger water requirement. Increasing standards of living in the southern part of the world is the major factor for water shortage.

Environmental issues are very big — by deteriorating the environment we will have an impact on water availability in the future. The kind of lifestyle that we have in Europe and the United States — if everybody were to consume as much water as we do in western countries then there will not be enough.

We have to have coping mechanisms to deal with this shortage. That means to demand less, so to consume less. And we can do this as individuals. As an individual I can decide to consume less but there should also be policies at national, regional, global level that will decrease the amount of water being used in certain sectors. We can’t deny countries that are now in the process of developing their economies.

* See more from AlertNet’s “The Battle for Water” package *

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