Water for a Thirsty Urban World

WATER HAS STEADILY CLIMBED the global political agenda during the first decade of the twenty-first century. During the 1980s and 1990s, water was not an important resource issue in international environmental and humanitarian dialogue. Issues like climate change and biodiversity took center stage: water was at best a bit player. All heads of state completely ignored the fact that water scarcity was a problem and could become an even more serious problem in the coming years. Even at present, most member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) do not consider water to be an important issue, mistakenly believing that developed countries have resolved all their water-related problems. This, unfortunately, is not the case. Developed countries have different types of water problems compared to developing countries, especially with regards to modernizing their infrastructure (some of which were laid more than a century ago and are well past their functional lives) and improving the efficiencies of water delivery and use.

The fact is that for nearly all countries of the world, water continues to be a problem. However, the types of water problems faced by different countries are not similar. The magnitude and extent of these problems differ, and their solutions are similarly likely to vary, even within national borders. This is to be expected since countries are not homogenous—they differ in respect to the level of economic and social development; climatic patterns (even when annual average rainfalls are similar); technical, management, and administrative capacities; and strength and effectiveness of institutional arrangements for managing water. While the type, magnitude, and extent of water problems may vary from one country to another, the primary reason why nearly all countries are facing them is the poor water management practices of the past and the present. There are signs of rapid improvements in some select locations of the world, but in many other areas the improvements have been, at best, incremental, and sometimes even illusory.

By Asit K. Biswas, 2010.  Article published in Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume 16, Issue 1, pages 147-162

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