Managing Water Resources

‘The challenges associated with managing water resources are difficult to resolve’. To what extent do you agree with this statement? 

The management of water sources involves not only the local management of water resources through supply or demand management but also involves the management of transboundary water sources. As such, while the inflexible mindsets and attitudes of people and corporations, the looming threat of climate change and the inherent inequities within the private management of water, pose a significant obstacle towards the equitable and efficient management of water resources, they can largely be resolved. Conflicts surrounding local, transboundary and even global water sources arise primarily from the fact that water is a shared common resource, thus, conflicts are to occur when a pressure point is reached at the convergence of rising demand as supply shrinks and demands for water compete. 

Figure 1: Pressure Point

Firstly, while it can be acknowledged that the inflexible attitudes of people and corporations do pose an imminent threat towards water conservation efforts, these can be changed through sustained and committed public education as well as realistic pricing and movements towards pressuring corporations to exercise corporate social responsibility and government action. The mindsets attitudes surrounding an “abundance mindset” exists mainly because of a lack of sustained public education and low water prices. As such, states could easily resolve the issue by championing long term projects to educate the public on the scarcity of water and further this effort through incremental rises in water prices and charging higher prices for “unnecessary” or excessively high levels of usage, this replaces the abundance mindset with a now moral and financial conviction to limit water consumption and thus promote conservation. For example, when Singapore raised water prices in 2017 (by 30%), this allowed for a notable fall in household water consumption. In the same vein, corporations, especially large agricultural corporations account for a significant percentage of water consumption yearly. Government movements towards higher utility prices, as well as citizen rallied advocacy for less consumption would profit incentivise more sustainable modes of production and irrigation reducing corporate and agricultural consumption. 

However, climate change also poses a significant threat towards the water supply and its management as rising temperatures and aridity in already water-scarce regions could place an exacerbated pressure on states’ water management efforts. As such, while the issue of climate change is complex and requires global levels of intervention and consensus, efforts made through geopolitical efforts such as the 2015 Paris Climate Accords could pave the way for more regional and intergovernmental efforts towards tackling climate change and in so doing water management across state boundaries. While it can be argued that increased aridity in regions such as the Middle East and North Africa could see rising assertions of absolute territorial sovereignty in the protectionist usage of water by upper riparian states, the issue of climate change could, in fact, inspire more concentrated regional multilateral dialogue across riparian states in order to better utilise water sources like the Nile or Euphrates River in order to prevent the tragedy of the commons. So while climate change could threaten water supplies in the long run, the fact is that climate change would pressure certain states as a catalyst for more productive water management systems such as instead of hard to enforce and long term international agreements to more effective and data-driven Integrated Water Management Systems. 

Lastly, while the privatisation of water poses a threat to the equity of water access and distribution in replacement of what may be inefficient governmental public water suppliers, public-private partnerships offer a middle ground that can allow for an equitable yet efficient management of water sources through combining public ownership and regulation with the resources of private corporations fuelling a system that makes up each’s downfalls. This is especially so when it comes to the development of hydroelectric dams by private water companies that may prefer HEP due to its increased profitability. However, this is when water can exercise greater influence in allowing for stronger regulation and enforcement that balances profitable energy production with the moral imperative or water provision through active subsidies, regulation and the PPP. Thus, this will facilitate a more equitable water management system. 

Erica Wee (18-I1)

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