The long-term implications of the water policies

Photo credit: British Council

‘Water is a precious resource in many parts of the world.’ © Photo: craigdietrich / Creative Commons

How countries can manage water access

By Erin O’Donnell

Access to water is a fundamental necessity, but many of us take it for granted. We turn on a tap, step into the shower or flush a toilet without giving any thought to where the water comes from, how it reaches us and whether there’s enough for us to use.

Water availability is uncertain in much of the world

It’s very different for many people in developing countries: in 2011, 768 million people lack access to sufficient water of a safe quality for drinking. Around the world, providing water to all those who need it remains a real challenge. Even in countries where access to safe water is a given, we are facing an uncertain future. A changing climate is likely to bring more extreme weather events, making both drought and flood more likely.. Water resource managers in urban areas are trying to adapt to increasing water demand as well as increasing unpredictability in water supplies. In Australia, we’re investing in large desalination plants. to provide alternative water supplies during times of water scarcity. In the UK, much of the effort is going in the opposite direction: managing the impact of too much water during floods, which can devastate towns at the bottom of river catchments.

Out in rural and regional areas, people have been living with uncertain water availability for many years. Irrigators and farmers are often more accustomed to the variability of water supplies, and adjust their farming activities accordingly. Over the past century, water managers have tried to provide secure water supplies by building vast water storages (dams) on rivers, which can hold water over from wet years and make it available in dry years. In Australia, as water becomes scarce, we’re also investing in massive infrastructure upgrades in irrigation areas, to reduce leakages and losses from irrigation systems. These water savings are often controversial (as in many cases they include water that may have seeped back into the river, and may have been used by other irrigators downstream), but when water is scarce and valuable, it’s important to make sure it’s being used efficiently (for more on this, have a look at the new book, by Professor Bruce Lankford at the University of East Anglia).

This really highlights the dual nature of water: it’s both a human right, something we can’t live without, and a valuable commercial input for irrigation, dairy farming, mining and power production. How do we protect that human right, whilst at the same time, encouraging commercial users to use it efficiently? And how do we make sure that even urban users don’t waste it?

How are governments dealing with demand for water?

Read the full article: British Council

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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