Saturday, November 25, 2017

The World Needs to Rethink the Value of Water

The water cycle describes how water evaporates from Earth’s surface, rises into the atmosphere, cools, condenses to form clouds, and falls again to the surface as precipitation. About 75 percent of the energy (or heat) in the global atmosphere is transferred through the evaporation of water from Earth’s surface. (Credit: NASA) Click to Enlarge.
Research led by Oxford University highlights the accelerating pressure on measuring, monitoring and managing water locally and globally.  A new four-part framework is proposed to value water for sustainable development to guide better policy and practice.

The value of water for people, the environment, industry, agriculture, and cultures has been long-recognized, not least because achieving safely-managed drinking water is essential for human life.  The scale of the investment for universal and safely-managed drinking water and sanitation is vast, with estimates around $114B USD per year, for capital costs alone.

But there is an increasing need to re-think the value of water for a number of reasons:
  1. Water is not just about sustaining life, it plays a vital role in sustainable development.  Water's value is evident in all of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, from poverty alleviation and ending hunger, where the connection is long recognized - to sustainable cities and peace and justice, where the complex impacts of water are only now being fully appreciated.
  2. Water security is a growing global concern.  The negative impacts of water shortages, flooding, and pollution have placed water related risks among the top 5 global threats by the World Economic Forum for several years running.  In 2015 Oxford-led research on water security quantified expected losses from water shortages, inadequate water supply and sanitation and flooding at approximately $500B USD annually.  Last month the World Bank demonstrated the consequences of water scarcity and shocks:  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 across generations.
Recognizing these trends, there is an urgent and global opportunity to re-think the value of water, with the UN/World Bank High Level Panel on Water launching a new initiative on Valuing Water earlier this year. The growing consensus is that valuing water goes beyond monetary value or price. In order to better direct future policies and investment we need to see valuing water as a governance challenge.

An international team led by Oxford University and partners across the world has published a new paper in Science in which they chart a new framework to value water for the Sustainable Development Goals.  Putting a monetary value on water and capturing the cultural benefits of water are only one step.  They suggest that valuing and managing water requires parallel and coordinated action across four priorities:  measurement, valuation, trade-offs, and capable institutions for allocating and financing water.

Read more at The World Needs to Rethink the Value of Water

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