Friday, September 11, 2009

CONSERVATION: UN - World Water Development Report

By Glenn V. Oliver

The third edition of the United Nations World Water Development Report (WWDR) was presented at the World Water Forum in Istanbul, Turkey on March 16, 2009. Taking a more in-depth approach than the two previous reports, the WWDR focuses on four major elements: the drivers of change, the use of water for humans and for ecosystems, the state of the water in the world, and options for responding to a changing world.

In examining the drivers - or the influences that put pressure on water resources - the WWDR reminds readers that most human activities have the potential to exert pressure on water resources and need to be managed. Specifically, the world's population is increasing by approximately 80 million people per year; this means that even more fresh water is needed when today it is a luxury in most of the world.

Additionally, the rapid global rise in living standards combined with population growth presents a major threat to the sustainability of human population growth. This is based on the fact that as populations move from subsistence living to agricultural or industrial societies, their water needs increase. Improved sanitation, improved access to drinking water and improved agriculture - all are welcome changes in the developing world, but all draw more heavily on water.

In the section examining the use of water in our world, the report outlines the major end-uses of fresh water, the trends behind those uses and the impact of water scarcity on society as reflected though the end uses.

Agriculture is of course primary on the list; agriculture, by far, is the most water-intensive human activity. Of course, without agriculture there would be famine and as such, sacrifices from other areas may have to be made to sustain our global food supply. On the other hand, advances in low-water agriculture may help "give back" some of the water now devoted to this important human endeavor.

Also noted in the report are water demands for energy, health, industry and the environment. Lastly, the report notes that social efforts to eradicate poverty consume water. We often don't think of this when we engage in altruistic efforts to raise the quality of life for people around the globe but we are, in fact, increasing the strain on the World's fresh water supply systems when we do this. The report certainly commends the efforts of anti-poverty crusaders around the world, but it does caution that water resource planning should be a top priority for these efforts, not an afterthought.

In the third major section, the WWDR examines the state of the world's water and spends significant time addressing the changing threats and emerging opportunities that could affect the world's water. Citing climate change as a factor, the report notes that droughts have become more frequent and more persistent in the past few decades.

Additionally, the "over abundance" of water in the form of typhoons, floods and other disasters have displaced millions in the past few years. Rarely do we hear about an opportunity coming from climate change, but the report offers one: with improved water efficiency and distribution, the earth could become a greener, more verdant planet.

The models above are the composite results of 5 different modeling scenarios and show that, on the whole, a warmer world could be a more productive world from an agricultural standpoint. The barrier between the present and that world is water distribution; if that can be improved modestly, the positive impact on societies around the globe could be enormous.

In the last major element of the report, the WWDR analyzes the options that lay before us in responding to water needs in the world. The report encourages "outside the water box" thinking such as incentive-driven conservation and large-scale regional planning rather than simply addressing issues at the community level.

The WWDR also levels constructive criticism at governments and planning bodies for allowing corruption to become so widespread in the water industry around the globe; it suggests that by simply improving transparency many of these problems will fix themselves. By taking a frank look at governments' roles in policies and planning, the report urges policy makers to consider water development planning as a primary step in any process - rather than a minor detail that can be decided later.

All in all, the report paints a picture of a world in flux; not all outcomes are determined. Some roads lead to increased water scarcity and turmoil while others lead to an improved, more productive world. Our future can be a bright one if we choose it to be.'s vision is to create the world's most efficient market for commercial transactions in the water and wastewater industries. Through our site, we provide 24/7 access to any water or wastewater contract opportunity anywhere in the world. Through our resources, we have created an online presence where water and wastewater utilities can find vendors who specifically serve these industries - wherever they may be in the world.

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