Readings of the WRM Course

RDV Core Training Program FY98 Activity 2.2

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Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the World --- an UN document, 1997


80. In this section, the report draws a number of implications for future water use patterns, based on current trends. From 1995, it looks forward for 30 years, which is the span of a generation, examining major forces that will affect and be affected by water use. It is difficult to provide a detailed picture of the world of 2025 because of many uncertainties in political and economic developments. However, it is possible to look ahead, and provide some general analyses.

A. Driving forces of change

81. Water use in 2025 is going to be shaped by several major driving forces:

1.Population will influence how much water will be needed for a wide range of needs, including food production, industrial development and domestic use. The mid-range projection from the United Nations is that world population will grow from 5.7 billion in 1995 to about 8.3 billion in 2025, an increase of 2.6 billion people. Much of the population increase will be in the rapidly growing urban areas of developing countries, many of which are already experiencing serious water stress.

2.The magnitude of the impact of a given population will vary depending on the amount and patterns of consumption of natural resources and of pollution. Depending on what technologies are used, the impact from a given type of consumption can be increased or decreased from today's levels. For example, if more food is produced by increasing the amount of irrigation, using the same mix of technologies as today, the water use will increase. The same is true of the continuing industrial development. A UNIDO study showed that current trends will lead to a more than doubling of 1995 industrial water use by 2025, with over a four-fold rise in industrial pollution loading unless changes are made. If more water efficient technologies are used, this would cut wastage, and thus reduce the amount of water that needs to taken from various sources to produce a given amount of food or industrial output. In the agricultural and industrial sectors, there are already many examples of technology changes that have reduced both the amount of water used and the amount of pollution released without reducing the output of products. At the domestic level, there are many examples of water-efficient fixtures, and there are attempts to educate more people in the safe use of hazardous materials to reduce the amount dumped into waterways or drains leading to waterways.

3.Trade policies. A large part of the increase in world food demand will come from the arid and semi-arid developing world, where there are high population growth rates. Many of these countries will find it difficult to keep increases in food production in line with demand increases, and water will be a limiting factor. Countries may have to choose between using their scarce water resources to maintain food self-sufficiency, or to use the water to produce high value products that can be exported to pay for food imports.

82. Most of the new population will be found in the developing world, and those countries will move from being 37 per cent urban in 1995 to 56 per cent urban in 2025. At the same time, there is more industrial development. These trends take both people and water supplies from agriculture, and creating an urgent need for more urban sanitation. Peri-urban agriculture is also increasing. By 1995, the world had 321 cities with populations over 1 million, including 15 mega-cities with populations in the 10 to 20 million range. The number of mega-cities is forecast to double over the next 20 years. In spite of that, there will still be more rural poor in 2025. If regions with high rates of urbanization are to maintain current levels of water and sanitation supply, this could mean investments over 1 per cent of GDP by 2025.

Figure 13. This map shows locations of large cities of the world.

83. There is another potential factor that could affect water availability. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the release of gases such as CO2 are increasing the ability of the atmosphere to trap heat. The panel warns that this may bring temperature increases, precipitation changes and sea level rise, with impacts varying on the availability of fresh water around the world. Computer models of possible future climate patterns are not yet precise enough to forecast changes at the local or small basin level. Current indications are that if climate change is gradual, the impacts may only be minor by 2025, with some countries having positive impacts, and most being negatively affected. Climate change impacts are predicted to become increasing strong during the decades following 2025.

B. Outlook and challenges that lie ahead

84. Although there is a very large uncertainty about future water needs, it is clear that all sectors will have growing requirements, and they already face stresses in many regions of the world. Given current trends, as much as two-thirds of the world population in 2025 may be subject to moderate to high water stress, and almost half the world would have clear difficulties in coping due to inadequate financial resources. Since many of the countries currently facing moderate to high water stress, as well as those that risk moving into higher stress categories by 2025 belong to the lower income groups, it is clear that water resources could become a limiting factor in the development of a number of countries. For reasons spelled out earlier in this report, it will also be more difficult and expensive to easily augment reliable water supplies by building more dams and creating reservoirs. There will be a need to modify consumption patterns, and to design and construct water supply projects in such a way as to bring into the planning both the people who may suffer and those who benefit, and to ensure that benefits are distributed fairly. Demand management will serve as an essential policy tool.

85. Many economic forecasts do not currently account for the amount water that will be required to achieve their goals, and water may become a limiting factor. Certain current water-intensive patterns of development will become less and less feasible.

86. As the risk of water stress increases, there will be a need for increased demand management in order to maximize the socio-economic benefits derived from the competing users of water. Water management must also be more prudent than in the past to avoid further degrading agricultural areas through such impacts as salinization, water erosion and waterlogging. Failure to protect the food growing capability of the world would have severe implications. To avert such problems countries, particularly water scarce countries, need to look at projections in such sectors as population, urbanization, economic and agricultural development, and establish water strategies and policies.

87. One of the trends identified in this report is that as water becomes more scarce in relation to demand, and competition among various users increases, water ceases to be available as a free good and in some cases becomes a tradable commodity. There is a shift taking place in the role of governments from being providers of water at very low cost, to regulators of water markets. As competition for available water grows among users, such as municipalities, industries, hydro-electric generators and irrigators, the price of water rises. While this allows the marketplace to choose the highest-valued use for water in economic terms, it will almost certainly mean water price increases, and this means that some users will be able to outbid others for the available water. This has the potential to impose hardships on some users, and there will be a need to ensure that everyone has a basic amount of water available at reasonable cost.

Figure 14. This map shows the impact of the expected population growth on water usage by 2025. It is based on the UN mid-range population projection and assumes that the current rate of use per person will not change. No account is taken of probable increases in water use patterns with economic growth or improvements in efficiency in water use.

1. Water needs for food production

88. World population forecasts suggest that within 30 years nearly 50 per cent more people than in 1995 will need to be fed. A substantial portion of future population growth is forecast for arid and semi-arid regions. Here, rainfed crop production is insecure because of a short rainy season, erratic rainfall, recurrent drought years, high evaporation of the rain that does fall and crust-forming, desertification-prone soils. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where over 95 per cent of the farmers depend on rainfed farming, the per capita production of cereals in the past two decades has not risen, and remains below what is needed to feed the population.

89. A number of estimates were made of how much water would be needed to produce enough food to give everyone in the world a healthy diet. The estimates ranged between a 50 to 100 per cent increase in water for food production over 30 years. The bulk of the increase in food production will need to come from irrigated land. Some of the estimates found that by 2025, it would require virtually all the economically accessible water in the world to meet the needs of agriculture, industry and households, and maintain adequate lake levels and flows in rivers. If more water is needed, more expensive projects such as high cost dams and diversions to bring water from sources far away from the area will be required.

90. As water becomes more scarce, municipalities and industries will be able to outbid most farmers, and this will push up the cost of water. If cost of water is passed on to consumer, food prices will go up. If farmers have to absorb the increased cost, poorer farmers growing relatively low value products could be forced out of business. While in the long run the use of pricing as a tool for allocating water resources is effective, the implementation of pricing policies need to take into account the possible economic and social impacts on the peri-urban and rural poor.

91. As food production is closely linked to the quality of land, the proper management of irrigation is essential in order to prevent land degradation such as salinization and waterlogging. The installation of adequate drainage, while protecting this natural capital, is likely to raise the cost of irrigation.

2. Water supply and sanitation and health

92. The regions most vulnerable to domestic water shortages include those that presently have poor access to water, and have rapid population growth, uncontrolled urbanization, financial problems and which lack of a skilled work force. Even if the world maintained the pace of the 1990s in water supply development, it would not be enough to ensure that everyone had access to safe drinking water by 2025. The challenge is particularly critical in Africa. Sanitation development is even more difficult to achieve. If everyone is to have sanitation facilities by 2025, this means providing services for more than 5 billion people in 30 years.

93. The continued neglect on the need for waste water treatment and damage from water pollution will lead to increases in public health problems and further damage to ecosystems, including the oceans, and foregone opportunities to recover and treat waste water for other uses, such as irrigation.

3. What will happen?

94. The analyses show that if many of the current approaches to water management to not change, this will lead to increasing water stress. As scarcities increase, there will be the risk of greater conflict over the water in the more than 300 transboundary rivers as well as many underground aquifers. This shows the importance of cooperation over river systems shared by countries. It will be crucial to work out water sharing arrangements which seeks to maximize benefits for all users.

95. Since it typically takes at least a decade to bring even a modest water resources project from planning to completion, and even more time for large projects, it is crucial for decision makers to immediately make and implement water policies and programs based on the best evidence available.

96. The concluding section provides suggestions for development of global, regional and national water strategies.

Click for a complete copy of the UN document Comprehensive assessment of the freshwater resources of the world

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