Re: Water Security for All in a World of Scarcity (World Bank Spring Meetings 2015)

Water Security is a problem that is at the heart of The World Bank’s two very important goals: ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. It is therefore timely to bring together all the global knowledge to solve the water agenda. Water is more than people versus profit versus planet; it is life, and the most important, precious resource available to mankind. But how do you get people to value water? It is interesting how scarcity forces the question to be answered. In moving forward, there must be a fundamental rethink about ways to safeguard and guarantee water for future generations. Very useful measures have to be taken to tackle dryness and properly address water scarcity before it becomes a crisis situation.

Wastewater reuse by industries and utilities should be encouraged, like the example of Windhoek, Namibia, where wastewater is reused for water supply. There may be some social resistance, but then, you can never underestimate the power of persuasion as has been shown in this case. Wastewater can be reused for irrigation, gardening and sports fields. Greywater can be reused for activities that do not require high quality water, like flushing toilets and watering lawns, while conserving freshwater. Treated wastewater should be discharged for groundwater recharge by industries and utilities. In regions where polluted rivers cannot be used for ground water recharge, tackling sanitation and regulation for industries disposing wastewater into rivers should be uppermost in reducing pollution, while allowing the rivers to regenerate over time.

Groundwater over abstraction has to be dealt with through proper governance, and ensuring high levels of groundwater recharge. Utilities need to be very efficient, and implementation of regulation uppermost, notwithstanding resistance from big time water consumers. Irrigation for food production is the greatest source of water consumption at about 80%, so the trade-off must be managed. There should also be more research into micro-irrigation schemes to improve yield with minimal use of water.

Behavioural change to use less water should be addressed in schools, furthermore, engaging the media to play a vital role in projecting water saving measures. For example in Southern Nevada, 93% of wastewater is recycled, and aggressive conservation campaign succeeded in reducing the amount of water used by a third, despite an increase in population of 400,000. Improved pricing should also be introduced with penalised billing for overuse. Concessions can be made to cater for the economically disadvantaged in society by introducing a minimum charge, as they are usually willing to pay a token for reliable service delivery, and this would prevent abuse of water. Political influence has to be properly managed through better water governance that responds to public interest.

A coherent and structured approach to water management is needed. Institutionalisation along with governance systems, policy development, regulation and implementation has to be addressed. Utilities have to do more to tackle the issue of unaccounted for water resulting from waste and leakages. It is highly irresponsible practise to have values as high as 50% loss reported. I remember an instructor at Osaka Municipal Water asking someone, “How would you feel if 50% of your take home pay is lost?” That is the enormity that most utilities have failed to come to terms with.

Technology should be harnessed in the most useful way and overall service delivery has to be very efficient. What would work in a particular region depends on the specifics of geography, water sources, industrialisation, level of urbanisation etc. Regions along the coastline could explore the option of desalination technology which is widely used in Australia, Spain and Israel. With the carbon footprint from energy intensive desalination plants, one might wonder if this should be an option. Perhaps the use of renewable energy for desalination should be spearheaded for a more acceptable carbon footprint.

Overall, a conscious effort is needed to reduce demand for freshwater, improve service delivery, and address water scarcity through political will and public awareness. The entire water life cycle, which is the whole cradle to grave approach, should also be considered. You can watch The World Bank Spring Meetings 2015 on water security