Editorial Feature

Is Water Becoming More Scarce? Challenges and Opportunities

Water plays a vital role in the survival of all animals and plants on Earth. In the absence of water, there would be no life on Earth. Our planet is covered by 70% of water but freshwater is astonishingly scarce. Freshwater only accounts for 3% of the world's water and, of that, two-thirds of the freshwater is stored in frozen glaciers, making it unavailable for use. This makes water arguably invaluable.

water, world water day

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Between 1940 and 1980, there was a significant increase in the utilization of water which resulted in water shortage in many regions worldwide. This has caused around 1.1 billion people to be without clean and adequate drinking water. A total of 2.7 billion people find water scarce at least once a month (Kılıç, Z., 2020).

Around 2.4 billion people experience inadequate sanitation resulting in the spread of waterborne diseases such as typhoid, fever, and cholera. Around two million people die from diarrhea yearly and a majority of these deaths are children.

The State of Water Resources

The increase in global freshwater usage has increased over the past 100 years by a factor of six and has been growing by a rate of 1% per year since 1980. Growth can mainly be attributed to various factors such as shifting consumption patterns, economic development, and population growth.

In the year 2025, it is estimated that water shortages will affect two-thirds of the world's population. This may be due to climate change affecting patterns of water and weather resulting in droughts and shortages in some regions, and floods in others.

It has been estimated that between 2000-2050 there will be a 55% increase in the global water demand, resulting in a global water deficit of 40% by the year 2030 if this business-as-usual model is maintained.

Valuing Water: Perspectives, Challenges and Opportunities

Life ceases to exist without water, making its value infinite. It is vital to measure, recognize and express waters' worth in decision making to achieve equitable and sustainable water resource management.

Those who determine the worth of water often control how it is utilized. Water valuation differences exist, not just between stakeholder groups, and are widespread within them. A challenging landscape for quick improvements in valuing water is due to a divergent perspective on the value of water and the best technique to express and calculate coupled with poor or limited understanding of the resource. 

It is fruitless to attempt to quantify the worth or value of water for home use, the human right to water, traditional or religious beliefs, and the importance of sustaining flows to conserve biodiversity. None of these should be compromised to achieve uniform valuation procedures.

Conservative traditional economics, frequently used in policy choices, tend to confine water values in the same way that most other products are valued by using the recorded cost or price of water when economic transactions occur.

However, in the case of water, there is no apparent link between its worth and the price or cost. The phrase ‘water is priced’ means the consumers are charged for utilizing it with the price often reflecting the attempt for cost recovery and not value delivered. However, in terms of value, economics remains a strong, important, and influential discipline, even if its applicability needs to be expanded.

The Value of Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Services in Human Settlements

Water plays a fundamental role in workplaces, schools, households, and health care facilities, though its value is mostly overlooked.

Water is a basic human requirement that is necessary for drinking as well as sanitation and hygiene to preserve and sustain life and health. The WASH service indirectly contributes value in the form of a healthier environment, by allowing effective management of wastewater as well as climate change adaptation, when infrastructure is developed with factors in mind.

In most regions, the benefit-cost ratio of such investments has been demonstrated to offer a considerable positive return.

The analysis of the interdependence and values of sanitation and hygiene is critical in determining the full value of WASH. Hygiene has even higher returns since it may significantly enhance health outcomes in many circumstances while requiring minimal extra expensive infrastructure.

Culture and the Values of Water

How the values of water are derived, used, and perceived are directly influenced by culture. Every group, community, society, or individual resides in their cultural environment, which is shaped by a diverse collection of elements such as history, education, heritage, tradition, life experience, social position, exposure of media and information, and gender, among many other factors.

It is difficult in some situations to express or define and articulate the values some cultures have on water. Water can appeal for scenic beauty, spiritual reasons, for its value to animals, or enjoyment, among other things, or a mix of these.

These values are problematic and difficult to compare to other forms such as economics, and therefore eliminated from the value assessments that favor them. Furthermore, culture changes and evolves through time, often swiftly.

After gathering and understanding, modifying or categorizing cultural values, it is necessary to establish and incorporate these values into decision-making. Methods such as cultural mapping can assist in better understanding water’s values in the face of present and future concerns, such as climate change.

Challenges and Opportunities of Valuing Water in Financing and Funding Water Services

To maximize the value of water in investment decisions, comprehensive consideration of the costs and benefits of a project is required. The social, economic, or environmental benefits need to be taken into account. Many of the positives and negatives, unexpected consequences of these investments must be considered. It can be challenging to aggregate numerous sorts of benefits since they are not all simply turned into monetary amounts.

When benefits cannot be monetized, additional valuation approaches, such as cost-effectiveness assessments, can be used to compare costs with non-pecuniary outcomes such as lives saved, people served, or environmental parameters satisfied. Another important component in assessing project benefits is comparing it to what would happen if the project were not performed.

The Future of Water

Compared to other natural resources, determining water’s ‘real’ worth has proven extraordinarily challenging. As a result, in many places of the world, the total value of this critical resource is not adequately represented.

Consolidating the numerous methodologies and ideas for valuing water across several perspectives and dimensions will certainly remain challenging. Differing methodologies might result in wildly different valuations,  even within the same water utilization sector. While there may be opportunities to minimize complications measurements in certain cases, improved methods for maintaining, recognizing, and accommodating diverse values are required. 

Finally, there must be a demand for placing value on water.

World Water Day and its Importance

world water day

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The concept for World Water Day dates back to 1992 when the United Nations Conference on Development and Environment was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That same year, the United Nations General Assembly designated the 22 March as the World Day of Water, to be honored beginning in 1993.

The day provides opportunities to educate the public about pressing concerns and organize resources to address global crises while celebrating the day and reinforcing the achievements of humanity.

References and Further Reading

Kılıç, Z., 2020. The importance of water and conscious use of water. International Journal of Hydrology, 4(5), pp.239-241. https://doi.org/10.15406/ijh.2020.04.00250

Nations, U., 2022. World Water Day | United Nations. [Online] United Nations. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/observances/water-day

World Wildlife Fund. n.d. Water Scarcity | Threats | WWF. [Online] Available at: https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity

Felter, C. and Robinson, K., 2021. Water Stress: A Global Problem That’s Getting Worse. [Online] Council on Foreign Relations. Available at: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/water-stress-global-problem-thats-getting-worse

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Olivia Hudson

Written by

Olivia Hudson

Olivia has recently graduated with a double bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering and Business Management from the RMIT University in Australia. During her studies, she volunteered in Peru to construct wind turbines for local communities that did not have access to technology. This experience developed into an active interest and passion in discovering new advancements in materials and the construction industry.  

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