By Dr. Senaka Basnayake and Dr. Niladri Gupta
Defining the value of water:
The value of water is not about the price of water but the value that water add to a complex system comprising of households, food, culture, health, education, economics and the integrity of our natural environment. Water is a finite resource and as a result, overlooking these values may lead to mismanagement of the resource. Thus, it is essential that we have a comprehensive understanding of the true value of water and the importance of intersectoral cooperation, otherwise safe guarding the vital resource will be untenable for benefit of the society.
The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro adopted a resolution to declare 22 March as the World Water Day. The day is commemorated every year with a focus on the importance of fresh water resources. The day celebrates water and raises awareness of the 2.2 billion people who live without access to safe water.
It also focusses on achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030. To accelerate initiatives aimed at addressing the challenges related to water resources, the UN General Assembly also proclaimed 2018-2028 as the International Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development”.
The theme of the World Water Day 2021 is “Valuing Water” which stresses the need for considering cultural, ecological, social and spiritual aspects of water while making decisions on use of water resources by various sectors (UNESCO, 2021).
Water and Climate Change:
Water and climate change are inextricably linked. The effect of climate change is felt through the cycle of evaporation and precipitation. Any change in these factors leads to increased extreme events. Only 2.5% of the Earth’s water is fresh and only 0.1% of it is available at our disposal, which requires safeguarding for a global population that will likely reach 10 billion by 2050 (World Economic Forum, 2020).
Climate change being a reality, coping with the effect of climate on water and taking measures to reduce vulnerabilities of communities and economies is essential as water crises are likely to cause potential damaging effects on economic and social sectors across countries (IUCN). Water availability for sustaining food systems of the world is a major challenge due to climate change.
Climate adaptation and mitigation in the water and agriculture sector is thus essential for resilience building for the communities to face the challenges posed by the effects of climate change. The interaction between climate change, water and agriculture is complex and region specific, increasing the uncertainty on the impact of climate change on agriculture.
As water management in agriculture involves public goods, externalities and risk management collective adaptation is essential and must comprise of on-farm water management and watershed management, taking into consideration other water users and uses besides agriculture, risk management from flood and drought and adaptation and mitigation interaction for agricultural water management (OECD, 2014).
COVID-19 and Water Woes:
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the already existing woes of the vulnerable communities on water availability as good WASH practices are essential to deter the spread of the disease. Studies have shown from private water suppliers in USA that there has been a 21% increase in water usage as most Americans followed orders to work from home, in an effort to "flatten the curve" and curb the spread of the coronavirus (Mendoza, 2020).
Thus, it can be imagined how the current pandemic is a major concern in Africa and South Asia which constitutes 85% of the world population and has limited access to clean and drinkable water. COVID-19 has brought the global focus on clean water for frequent handwashing, drinking and personal hygiene. Thus, the decision makers will be compelled to give increasing attention not only to access to water but also to its quality.
This will also contribute towards reaching the SDGs especially SDG 6 but would require a rethinking of optimal use of scarce financial resources when countries are facing economic downturn.
For effective intersectoral climate adaptation, adaptative integrated water resources management should be at the center of planning and investment. The ecosystems that provide healthy watersheds and the benefits for climate resilient food and energy sector should be promoted for investment and sustainability of natural infrastructure.
Support should be provided to scale up adaptation in all sectors where water should be at the core of adaptation strategies. Thus, intersectoral cooperation becomes essential to actually manage the water resources optimally to determine the true value of water.
Asian Disaster Preparedness Center is currently implementing a World Bank funded project for effective water resources management as an enabler of climate adaptation and resilience building in Asia. The project aims to understand the multidimensional value of the resource and implement intervention in three South Asian countries to create an enabling environment for climate resilience policies and investments across South Asia.
Dr. Senaka Basnayake is Director of Climate Resilience Department and Director a.i. of Urban Resilience Department at ADPC.
Dr. Nildari Gupta is an Integrated Water Resource Management Specialist at ADPC.