A few days before the start of the United Nations Conference on Water 2023, a historical report on the economy of water is known that paints a rather complex picture. We face the prospect of a 40% shortfall in freshwater supply by 2030, the researchers say.
The crisis has already pushed entire communities and regions of the Global South into severe food insecurity. The water-energy-food nexus, worsened by food export restrictions, has also contributed to soaring food prices in the last 15 years, for example.
The Global Commission produced the report on the Economics of Water (GCEW), an entity convened by the Government of the Netherlands and facilitated by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
It was launched in May 2022 with a two-year term and is implemented by an independent and diverse group of expert policymakers and researchers in fields that bring new perspectives to the economics of water.
“We are seeing the consequences not of freak events, nor of population growth and economic development, but of our global mismanagement of water over decades,” the researchers say. There are several key elements to dimension that reality.
More than two billion people still lack access to safely managed water. A child under the age of five dies every 80 seconds from diseases caused by contaminated water, and hundreds of millions of children grow up stunted.
Human actions are now such a force for change on Earth, the researchers warn, that the hydrological cycle is shifting and interacting with climate and ecological change, threatening the source of all fresh water: precipitation.
No country, not even the largest, depends on its own territory as the source of more than half of its precipitation. Therefore, nations must begin to manage water as a “global commons.” The report sets out key recommendations.
Water as a global good
“It means recognizing that communities and nations are regionally and globally connected; that water is increasingly intertwined with climate change and the depletion of the planet’s natural capital”
Access for all
“We must comply with the human right to drinking water. We must act collectively to stabilize the global water cycle. It means mobilizing multiple stakeholders, public, private, civil society and the local community; use innovation policy to catalyze solutions to specific problems; and increase investments in water through new modalities of public-private alliances”.
Stop devaluing water
“Proper pricing coupled with targeted support for the people with low-income will allow water to be used more efficiently across sectors, more equitably across populations, and more sustainably both locally and globally. We also need to factor in the non-economic value of water in decision-making to make sure we protect nature, on which the planet and all life depends.”
Eliminate agricultural subsidies
“We must accelerate efforts to mandate disclosure of water footprints, which are key to guiding capital and consumer preferences in favour of sustainable practices. Each of these steps will allow us to redirect resources towards incentivizing water conservation and universal access.”
“Trade policy should be used as a tool for more sustainable water use, by incorporating water conservation standards into trade agreements, highlighting wasteful water subsidies, and ensuring that trade policies do not exacerbate water scarcity in regions with water scarcity.
Multilateralism must also support capacity building for all, prioritize gender equality in water decision-making, and empower farmers, women, youth, indigenous peoples and local communities, and consumers who are on the front line of water conservation”.
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