6. How could water resources be developed sustainably?
- 6.1 What are the obstacles to sustainable water management?
- 6.2 How could water be used more efficiently and sustainably?
6.1 What are the obstacles to sustainable water management?
A number of factors present difficulties for the
sustainable development of
water resources, including
climate change and the
natural variability of the resource, as well as pressures caused
by human activities.
These factors, combined, increase competition for water and
lead to gross inefficiencies in how water is supplied. The
fundamental problem, however, is that the long-term vision
required for sustainable
practices to take hold is relegated due to economic short-term
gains and political considerations. Managers should ideally
consider best current practices and the latest techniques in
drawing up their water plans.
Scientists must persuade policy-makers of the relevance of
their recommendations so that they can be implemented. Most
up-to-date solutions will be required to meet the challenges of
managing water resources
funding for the collection of information will also be
There is often limited understanding of processes and
interactions among the various elements of the
such as rain, snow, soil moisture, evapotranspiration, and
meltwater from glaciers.
This makes it difficult to develop comprehensive strategies to
protect water resources. More comprehensive assessments methods
It is relatively easy, based on long-term measurements taken
in many places, to predict, and find solutions for annual and
seasonal differences in water flow. However, it is much more
difficult to predict long-term variations over several decades.
Underground water could be
used during long dry spells, while surplus runoff could
However, solid information on
underground water is
lacking in many developing countries—especially in Asia and
Africa, where monitoring programmes have been cut
Most developing countries also lack adequate monitoring of
water quality, and this poses considerable public health
challenges. Information on the consumption, pollution, and
withdrawal of water globally is still fragmentary.
The poor quality of water and the inadequacy of supplies can
have a negative impact on economic development, public health,
and living conditions.
Changes to the landscape such as the growth of cities, the
removal of wetlands,
of roads, and surface mining disrupt environmental water flows,
cause ecosystem changes, and complicate water planning. They
also make it more difficult to understand what local and
climate change will have on
water resources—already a major challenge, given the scarcity of
We have a good understanding of the effects of pollution and
of drawing too much water from
aquifers and from rivers,
lakes, and inland seas. Fighting these effects will require
substantially increased funding in most developing
Practices that are more
sustainable are now being
included in new water programmes, and these give reason for
6.2 How could water be used more efficiently and sustainably?
More attention should be paid to making better use of existing
natural resources, controlling demand and reducing losses, and
achieving greater efficiencies in water management.
New approaches, such as desalination and the replenishment of
standard techniques such as storing runoff. In some very dry
countries, water is drawn from the ground without being
Most water companies focus on developing infrastructure rather
than on managing demand. A shift towards reducing demand will
require changes in patterns of behaviour by individuals and
organizations, as well as political commitment to enforce
rational water management.
Countries have responded to the present situation with new
laws, new techniques, and local knowledge. Regular assessments
of basins and aquifers will
bring economic, social, and environmental benefits.
Climate change is
expected to bring more erratic weather, with greater variations
in the level of rainfall, which may reduce harvests and create
widespread water shortages. In order to prevent or reduce
damaging consequences, we need a comprehensive approach that
takes into account all aspects of the
The most recent, integrated approaches to the management of
water resources consider the relations between the
and ecosystems. Such
approaches need complete information and should also include in
their scope social, economic, and environmental
Conservation programmes that try to reduce the demand for
water differ from the standard method, under which all water is
regarded as available, and promote awareness, as well as
efficiency and fairness in the use of water. Conservation
programmes have not been readily implemented, even though they
can bring economic benefits for water supply and treatment
plants, and for sewage disposal systems. They also help sustain
ecosystems and reduce
Programmes that focus on managing demand emphasise steps to
encourage lower consumer use and fewer leaks in water
distribution networks. Such leaks can lead to the loss of from
40% to 70% of the water within the supply system.
Levels of consumer use could fall by as much as 40% once
conservation measures are introduced in households. These
figures suggest that, if conservation programmes were carried
out more widely, some large-scale investments in plants and
equipment might not be necessary.
In recent years, water resources have been looked at from the
standpoint of potential use, with an eye on social equity and
the health of ecosystems,
among other things. These analyses require a reliable generation
of water data from many monitoring stations around the world.
However, investment in such stations has fallen sharply since
the mid-1980s, particularly in Africa and Eastern Europe.
On most continents, the assessment of water resources is
becoming less centralised and more focused on river basins. This
approach will always have to face issues of competition and
sovereignty, but the joint collection of information on water
resources in basins shared by more than one country will benefit
all sides, in terms of economic development, people’s
livelihoods and the health of