Why the world needs to rethink the value of water

Why the world needs to rethink the value of water

Research led by the University of Oxford highlights the increasing pressure on water measurement, monitoring and management locally and globally. A new four-part framework for establishing the value of water for sustainable development is proposed to guide better policy and practice.

The value of water to people, the environment, industry, agriculture and cultures has long been recognized, especially since achieving safely managed drinking water is essential for human life. The scale of investment for safe, managed universal drinking water and sanitation is broad, with estimates of around $ 114 billion per year for capital costs alone.

But there is a growing need to rethink the value of water for two key reasons:

Water is not just about sustaining life, it plays a vital role in sustainable development. The value of water is evident in the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, from the alleviation of poverty and the elimination of hunger, where the connection has long been recognized: sustainable cities, peace and justice, where complex impacts of the water are only now fully appreciated.

Water safety is a growing global concern. The negative impacts of water scarcity, flooding and pollution have placed water-related risks in the top 5 global threats by the World Economic Forum for several consecutive years. In 2015, Oxford-led research on water safety quantified expected losses from water scarcity, inadequate water supply and sanitation, and flooding at approximately $ 500 billion annually.

Last month, the World Bank demonstrated the consequences of water scarcity and the impacts: the cost of a drought in cities is four times greater than a flood, and a single drought in rural Africa can ignite a chain of deprivation and poverty through generations.

Recognizing these trends, there is an urgent and global opportunity to rethink the value of water, with the UN / World Bank High-Level Panel on Water launching a new initiative on Valorization of Water earlier this year. The growing consensus is that the valuation of water goes beyond monetary value or price. In order to better direct future policy and investment, we must view valuing water as a governance challenge.

Published in Science, the study was conducted by an international team (led by the University of Oxford) and outlines a new framework for valuing water for the Sustainable Development Goals. Putting a monetary value on water and capturing the cultural benefits of water are just one step towards this goal. They suggest that the valuation and management of water requires parallel and coordinated action through four priorities: measurement, valuation, compensation, and institutions capable of allocating and financing water.

Lead author Dustin Garrick, University of Oxford, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, explains: “Our paper responds to a call for global action: the cascading negative impacts of water scarcity, shocks and services. Inadequate values ​​underscore the need to better value water. There may be no silver bullets, but there are clear steps to take. We argue that valuing water is fundamentally about navigating concessions. The goal of our research is to show why we need to rethink the value of water and how to do it, harnessing technology, science and incentives to overcome stubborn governance barriers. Valuing water requires that we value institutions ”.

Co-author Richard Damania, World Bank Water Practice Lead Global Economist, said: “We show that water underpins development and that we must manage it sustainably. Multiple policies will be needed for multiple goals. Current water management policies are outdated and inadequate to address the water-related challenges of the 21st century. Without policies to allocate finite water supplies more efficiently, control growing demand for water, and reduce waste, water stress will intensify where water is already scarce and spread to other regions of the world, impacting growth. economic and water development of nations. '

In conclusion, co-author Erin O'Donnell of the University of Melbourne adds: “2017 is a watershed moment for the state of rivers. Four rivers have been given the rights and powers of legal persons, in a series of groundbreaking legal decisions that resonated around the world. This unprecedented recognition of the cultural and environmental value of rivers in law forces us to reexamine the role of rivers in society and sustainable development, and rethink our paradigms to value water. "

Original article (in English)

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