Why The Concern About Current Water Management?

Some troubling numbers:

  • Worldwide, 3.5 million people die every year from water-related diseases
  • 1.4 million children die every year from diarrhea
  • Millions of women and children spend hours a day collecting water from distant, often polluted sources.
  • At any one time, more than half of the poor in the Global South are ill from causes related to sanitation and water supply.
  • Worldwide, 2.5 billion people lack improved sanitation, including 1.2 billion people with no facilities at all.

Water demand outstripping supply:

  • By 2030, there could be a 40% gap between global water demand and accessible, reliable supply.
  • By 2050, cities will become home to 2 billion more people – 70% of the global population. Much growth occurs in regions already water-stressed
  • Activities such as fracking and metallic mining, are water-intensive and may pose threats to water sources
  • Desalination as a solution is energy-intensive and doesn’t address depletion of groundwater sources and contamination of surface water

Poor source water protection and connection between cities and watersheds:

  • Water utilities tend to focus on downstream water treatment, with limited programs to protect upstream sources
  • Inter-agency and inter-municipal coordination is lacking in watershed protection. Opportunities are missed for cities to collaborate with rural communities on watershed protection strategies
  • While water may be perceived as common good – although increasingly seen as tradable commodity –watersheds (often privately owned) are generally not treated as a commons
  • Where compensation for environmental services programs do exist to support watershed “stewards”, programs often not sustainably linked to local economies.

Uneven Oversight of Water Services:

  • Regulations and regulatory capacity vary enormously – the US Clean Water Act and EPA have made important strides but even they struggle from political pressure and budget cuts
  • Many legal frameworks, regulatory agencies and environmental policing units around the world require larger budgets and capacity building to protect public water and regulate land use in watersheds

Increasing Rates:

  • Water rates are rising and absorbing higher percentage of poor families' incomes, even while in many cities, delivered water is not potable
  • Families buy bottled water to replace public water. Bottled water can be 1000 times as expensive as tap water yet use is skyrocketing worldwide
  • Unaffordable water threatens UN-approved human right to water and sanitation
  • Private water can cost as much as 80 percent more than public water.
  • Domestic water users are expected to pay full cost for water while agriculture and industry, which respectively use 70% and 20% water volume, pay subsidized rates.

Growing bottled water consumption:

  • Bottled water is one of the least regulated industries in the U.S. Tap water is tested more frequently and its standards are more rigorously monitored and enforced by the EPA.
  • Worldwide, people spent $100 billion on bottled water in 2005, nearly sufficient to fund the $110 billion annual investment for global access to public water
  • Plastic bottle waste is a growing environmental challenge
  • Private bottlers may overdraw aquifers, leaving communities without enough water to meet basic needs.

Global Disparities:

  • A typical U.S. five-minute shower uses more water than the average poor family living in a Global South marginalized community uses in a day.
  • Due to poor quality public water, many poor people pay 5 -10 times more per liter of water (bottled and from private vendors) than wealthy people receiving public water living nearby.

Water Management:

  • Public water utilities are chronically under-funded yet over 90% of water worldwide is managed publicly
  • Financially-strapped municipalities encouraged to privatize by creditors. Some reverting to public management through “remunicipalization”
  • Watershed management is often left to citizen-led environmental organizations that require more support from water operators and public agencies.<

Some solutions:

  • Strengthen public water operator capacity through peer-to-peer mentoring relationships, such as the UN Global Water Operators Partnership Alliance (GWOPA)
  • Strengthen municipal water delivery and watershed protection through inter-municipal cooperation and training public sector workers
  • Use public water utilities accountability mechanisms, such as public hearings, to invite public participation and improve water services
  • Capitalize global and national trust funds to finance water infrastructure through low interest loans
  • Implement the human right to water to guarantee minimum supply for all families. Cross subsidize rates across all users, including agriculture and industry
  • Legally empower local watershed councils to co-manage watersheds with public authorities
  • Experiment with natural infrastructure to reduce costs and environmental damage.

Through good quality, affordable water, we can achieve:

  • 272 million more school attendance days a year
  • 1.5 billion more healthy days for children under five years of age
  • Health-care savings in the billions of dollars a year
  • Poverty alleviation by reducing family spending on expensive, unsafe water
  • Healthier ecosystems.