How effective are we in tackling water security?

October 27, 2014, Oxford University

A new paper published in Science has examined how regions around the world are coping with variable and unpredictable freshwater resources caused through drought or floods, and how this affects economic output.

The analysis compares low and high income countries and their ability to cope with changes in freshwater supply and quality. At least three types of hydrologic variability cause harm: seasonal and monthly; year-to-year; and unpredictable timing and intensity of extremes. When these three combine, the situation is 'most challenging – a wicked combination of that confronts the world's poorest people', says the paper led by Professor Jim Hall, Director of the University's Environmental Change Institute. Examples include Ethiopia, where there has been 38% less economic growth than would have been expected based on average rainfall.

The challenge is that the scale of economic losses depends on factors that are difficult to isolate. While high-income countries suffer fewer than lower income ones because they are better placed to invest resources in managing risk, when their deteriorates and extreme events become more frequent, losses can be pushed 'beyond the tolerability threshold, as seen from US impacts of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy', says the paper.

The team's analysis shows that in river basins where there has been low investment in complex hydrology, is low. River basins with better hydrology are wealthier even if the investment in water management has been modest. Where the hydrology is highly variable, the paper argues that additional investment is needed to move from water-insecure to secure. It recognises, however, that the poorest countries are least able to afford to invest in improvements and the task for them is often the hardest to deliver. Critically, while investment can help move some areas towards greater water security, climate change can undermine that work.

Professor Jim Hall said: 'To tackle the complex issues involved, we need to build resilience to risk. It is an approach we are calling "the three Is". Countries need to focus on their institutions, infrastructure and information, and all three should be tackled together.

'Institutions and good governance can ensure that the right legal and economic measures are used, such as water allocation and property rights, land zoning, water pricing and trading, among others. At the same time investment in infrastructure, such as levees, groundwater wells and desalination, is vital to buffer variability and reduce risks. Decisions taken by institutions about infrastructure rely on good accurate information collection, analysis and transfer.'

The paper's conclusion is clear: context matters and developing more effective responses to water insecurity will require a significant shift in the way that investments are understood and made, creating pathways, not just individual projects.

Explore further: Nile River monitoring influences northeast Africa's future

Related Stories

Reducing water scarcity possible by 2050

August 29, 2014

Water scarcity is not a problem just for the developing world. In California, legislators are currently proposing a $7.5 billion emergency water plan to their voters; and U.S. federal officials last year warned residents ...

Research that holds water

October 21, 2014

Water is a vulnerable resource coming under increasing pressure in many parts of the world. The Research Council of Norway is providing funding to a number of research projects seeking to solve challenges related to the supply ...

Water-quality trading can reduce river pollution

September 23, 2014

Allowing polluters to buy, sell or trade water-quality credits could significantly reduce pollution in river basins and estuaries faster and at lower cost than requiring the facilities to meet compliance costs on their own, ...

Smallholder farmers need improved stake in Nile's development

November 5, 2012

A new book finds that the Nile river, together with its associated tributaries and rainfall, could provide 11 countries—including a new country, South Sudan, and the drought-plagued countries of the Horn of Africa—with ...

Recommended for you

Can China keep it's climate promises?

March 26, 2019

China can easily meet its Paris climate pledge to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, but sourcing 20 percent of its energy needs from renewables and nuclear power by that date may be considerably harder, researchers ...

What happened before the Big Bang?

March 26, 2019

A team of scientists has proposed a powerful new test for inflation, the theory that the universe dramatically expanded in size in a fleeting fraction of a second right after the Big Bang. Their goal is to give insight into ...

Cellular microRNA detection with miRacles

March 26, 2019

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short noncoding regulatory RNAs that can repress gene expression post-transcriptionally and are therefore increasingly used as biomarkers of disease. Detecting miRNAs can be arduous and expensive as ...

In the Tree of Life, youth has its advantages

March 26, 2019

It's a question that has captivated naturalists for centuries: Why have some groups of organisms enjoyed incredibly diversity—like fish, birds, insects—while others have contained only a few species—like humans.

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gkam
1 / 5 (1) Oct 27, 2014
I see troubles ahead.
Enviro Equipment Blog
not rated yet Oct 27, 2014
One more example of how the value of a region's natural resources impacts on its economy. Just 20 years ago this sort of relationship between the two was considered crackpot; now it's rapidly becoming standard fare for economic forecasting.
Shootist
1 / 5 (1) Oct 27, 2014
How effective are we in tackling water security?


Has Governor Moonbeam built any de-sal plants and the nuclear reactors to power them?

Q.E.D.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.