Water Scarcity

Colin Green, University of Middlesex

“Practical challenges for scarcity management

What we can be confident in knowing is that water management is always fundamentally about food production because plants both require enormous quantities of water – depending on diet, 1-4 tonnes of water a day are required to grow the food for one person – and because plant growth is the principle necessarily consumptive use of water.  Secondly, that water is heavy and incompressible means that water management is capital intensive and lifting it is energy intensive.

For agriculture, there is a true scarcity of water: increasing global food production requires more water (Molder 2007).  For urban uses, the problem is not a scarcity of water, since we get most of the water back after use and many cities export more water than they import, but the scarcity of resources such as capital, and also technical.  This means that the short cut to looking at water scarcity is to focus on plant demand, evapotranspiration needs, versus local precipitation.  Where the former significantly exceeds the latter, importing water is necessary to grow food.

Unfortunately, this is only part of the problem; a large part of the problem is the variability in the availability of water. Averages are of little use in water management; it is the variabilities that matter, both the intra-year variability across the seasons and more especially between the years.  It is these variabilities that make water management difficult, and hence much more difficult in some regions than in others. Balancing supply and demand depends largely upon the availability of storage; the greater the variability of water availability, the greater the requirement for storage.

How to deal with the challenges: The tools

The three primary functional challenges in considering WRM are:

  1. Raising and servicing the capital sums necessary to finance water management approaches.
  2. Whereas historically water management focused upon modifying the environment to match anthropogenic needs, we are now focusing upon changing people’s behaviour to live with the environmental constraints.   Appropriate and effective means of changing behaviour are therefore a necessity.
  3. Water management is always a transboundary problem; national boundaries are only the most obvious example of those boundaries.   Hence, we need means of bridging in various ways across those boundaries.”

How can these challenges be addressed?


Economic and Financial Instruments for the Implementation of the Water Related Sustainable Development Goals. Lessons Learnt

Carlos Mario Gomez, University of Alcalá
Xavier Leflaive, OECD

Economic instruments are part of a new approach to water policy. There still is room for improvement in the design and implementation and particularly in adapting particular kinds of instruments to local circumstances including local institutional set-ups.

There remains a great deal of uncertainty especially over the potential role of pricing, and water use right trading systems, for water demand management and allocation.

Decision-making on water management will definitely be improved with better information but cannot be dependent just on that. Information, after all, is not the only (scarce) element of decision-making.

Instead of assuming a foreseeable future, economic and financial instruments must assume that the water future is uncertain. Instruments must be assessed and chosen giving priority to its capacity to enhance adaptability and resilience and to work well under different, and essentially unpredictable, future conditions.

Financial and economic instruments are argued to be able to fulfil one or more social objectives: financial sufficiency of water development, support and promote economic growth and territorial development, and environmental sustainability, amongst others (i.e. equity concerns).

Financial goals should be clearly distinguished from economic incentives, aimed at inducing chosen behavioural changes. Cost-recovery mechanisms do emphasise on revenue collection and is essential to make the provision of water services sustainable. But the way these questions are addressed does not necessarily have anything to do with efficient pricing, whose motivation should be to optimise water use and social welfare.

In water management, information has typically been expensive and can be considered as part of transaction costs.

The effective design and implementation of financial and economic policy instruments typically require more differentiation (and hence more information than command-and-control systems).
But, economic and financial instruments save information as well (i.e. setting a price and observing behaviour is not that demanding as deciding water allocations in a centralized manner, markets might be a way of revealing preferences, etc.).

A critical issue in the implementation of financial and economic instruments is a clear definition of water rights.

Economic and financial instruments are usually only one element of a broader institutional set up. They are often combined with other policy instruments into a water policy or management strategy.
Innovative financial and economic policy instruments are not necessarily new instruments but rather better designed and implemented instruments.

Pricing, payment for environmental services, cooperation, trading schemes and other financial and economic instruments are not always easy to implement (due to high transaction costs, equity concerns, social acceptability, institutional complex demands, etc.). “

What do you think is the role of pricing and economic instruments?

Governance challenges and suggested tools for the implementation of the water-related Sustainable Development Goals

Aziza Akhmouch, OECD
Delphine Clavreul, OECD

“The main governance implementation challenges in Water resources management are:

– The management of water resources is an issue particularly sensitive to the question of scale. The mismatch between administrative limits and hydrological boundaries can lead to local actors (e.g. municipalities) placing their own interests ahead when designing and implementing water resources management policies and strategies, rather than integrating the needs of the river basin and aquifers.

– Managing water resources efficiently can also be hindered by diverging interests between urban and rural areas for example, or between up-stream and downstream regions. This can hinder the water-use efficiency across sectors and prevent the adoption of convergent objectives for sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity.”

How can these be overcome?

Technology Challenges and tools for the implementation of the water related sustainable development goals and targets

Elisa Tonda (UNEP) with the collaboration of Christian Susan (UNIDO)

“The Synthesis Report of the Secretary General on the Post 2015 Agenda calls for:

Having taken into account the recommendations of the structured dialogues of the General Assembly, I propose to establish an online, global platform building on and complementing existing initiatives, and with the participation of all relevant stakeholders, (paragraph 125)


At the same time, I call upon all Member States to (a) urgently finalize arrangements for the establishment of the proposed Technology Bank and the Science, Technology, and Innovation Capacity Building Mechanism for LDCs, (b) significantly scale up cooperation for the sharing of technologies, strengthening knowledge and capacity building for usage, innovation capacities, including ICTs, (c) make the adjustments necessary in the national and international policy frameworks to facilitate these actions, (d) substantially progress in the development, transfer, and dissemination of such technologies and knowledge to developing countries on favorable, concessional, and preferential terms; (e) ensure that our global intellectual property regimes and the application of TRIPS flexibilities are fully consistent with and contribute to the goals of sustainable development; (f) make specific commitments to shifting public resources out of harmful technologies, and into our sustainable development goals; and (g) promote the acceleration of the innovation-to-market-to-public good cycle of clean and environmentally sound technologies. (paragraph 126)”.

What are your suggestions to implement this?