Water quality and availability concerns require demand management

Many parts of the world are already struggling to meet growing demand for good quality water. With competition for dwindling resources set to intensify, ensuring its efficient use is crucial for successful water management strategies.

Water demand has steadily increased with economic development and population growth, leading to overuse. Meanwhile, industrial and agricultural pollution spoils ever-scarcer sources. Accelerated climate change will only aggravate this.

The OECD estimates that 3.9 billion people - nearly half the world’s population - will live under severe water stress by 2030, regardless of climate change impacts. Most of these people will live in China and South Asia.

Restricted access to water is already hampering economic development in some areas. Ensuring availability is considered key to meeting the Millenium Development Goals . Developing countries suffer most, but Europe also experiences water scarcity.

The situation is most acute in Southern Europe, but water stress is becoming more severe and widespread in the North too. The European Commission estimates that at least 11% of Europe’s population and 17% of its territory are affected by water scarcity.

Currently, agriculture represents 40% of water use in developed countries, while the global figure stands at 70%, according to the OECD. But the agricultural sector will have to compete for water with growing demand from households and industry. Water also provides ecological and recreational services.

Against this backdrop, governments have started to take a more comprehensive approach to water management. In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development called on all countries to develop integrated water resource management and water efficiency plans. Many have started reforming their water policies accordingly.

The Global Water Partnership defines integrated water resource management as “a process which promotes the co-ordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximise the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems”. This approach values water as both a resource and provider of services.

Improving water efficiency plays a crucial role here, significantly relieving pressure on depleting resources. IN 2007, the European Commission estimated that the EU could boost its water-use efficiency by around 40% via technological improvements alone, without major behavioural changes.

Water-efficiency improvement measures include better irrigation technologies and crop selection, and avoiding water-intensive energy crops in water-scarce areas. Reducing leakages in water networks brings significant savings too. In parts of Europe, over 40% of total water supplies are lost via leakage, the European Environment Agency estimates.

Finally, water pricing provides an incentive to use water efficiently while recovering the full cost of water services. As well as water supply and infrastructure, this includes environmental and resource costs incurred from damaging the ecosystem.

The EU’s Water Framework Directive has required this ‘user pays’ principle since 2000. Nevertheless, in 2007, the Commission argued in its Communication on Water Scarcity and Droughts that the principle had only been implemented in a couple of sectors, leaving, for instance, the major water-using agricultural sector untouched.

To read more about the role of government water policy, please use the following links:

Water policy

Ensuring drinking water quality standards: from source to the tap

Bottled water quality: bottled water vs tap water

Can desalination technology solve the coming water crisis?

Deforestation and water quality are inextricably linked

Water quality studies: monitoring our freshwater sources

Harnessing water's potential: what is hydropower?

Water and climate change

Understanding EU Water Directives

Water Filter Reviews

How Does Drinking Water Availability Impact You?

Do you have thoughts or comments about this? Share them with the world!

Does your region have enough clean drinking water? If there are problems, what are they and why do you think they are occuring?

Do you think that individuals, households or businesses should have their water supply limited in areas where availability is limited?

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