24 June 2013

Assessing the future of water

June 2013: Options Magazine, Summer 2013.

Water Futures and Solutions: World Water Scenarios, a new initiative coordinated by IIASA, aims to provide a scientific basis for responding to worldwide water challenges. 

Water reservoir (C) Luchschen | Dreamstime.com

Water reservoir (C) Luchschen | Dreamstime.com

As IIASA Director and Chief Executive Officer Professor Dr. Pavel Kabat told Nature this winter: “Actually, water is much more valuable than oil. There are alternatives to oil, but there are no alternatives to water.”

“If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water—unless we change our approach to managing this precious and vital resource,” said Ismail Serageldin, then Vice President of the World Bank, in 1995.

Since then water has climbed the global agenda, with the creation of global bodies such as the World Water Council and Global Water Partnership, the World Commission on Water, and the Water Vision Scenarios.

But water experts say much more needs to be done.

On 4–5 February 2012, a diverse group of high-level representatives from all stakeholder groups gathered at IIASA to discuss a new initiative which aims to produce a systematic worldwide analysis of water issues. The Water Futures and Solutions: World Water Scenarios initiative will forge a broad institutional partnership bringing together the scientific community, governments, decision makers, as well as civil society, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. Started by a partnership of IIASA, UNESCO, the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs of the Republic of Korea, the World Water Council, and the International Water Association, the initiative will test a range of solutions against scenarios for socio-economic change, and bring together decision makers to discuss a common vision for the future of water on our planet.

Water is a resource at the epicenter of sustainable development and peace and is vital for life, human health, food and nutrition, energy, biodiversity, and ecosystems. It has social, cultural, economic and environmental values that are interconnected and mutually supportive, especially in the quest for building sustainable green societies.

“Currently approximately 3 billion people live without water at home or in their vicinity; 4 billion lack continuous access to water, 4.5 billion have no sewage system, and 5.5 billion have no water treatment,” says Glen Daigger, president of the International Water Association. With world population expected to reach 9 billion in 2050, demand for water will dramatically increase. Population growth is just one of many factors that will influence water needs; climate change and erratic weather events, including floods, droughts, and storms all add to the vulnerability and uncertainty of global water resources.

In the future, water is projected to become even more scarce. The World Water Scenarios initiative brings a systems approach to global water challenges.

Current projections say that by 2025 an estimated 60 percent of world population will live in water stressed conditions and a similar proportion will be without adequate sanitation. Water scarcity is closely associated with poverty, food and security and malnutrition.

“One of the big things that is needed in water research is a greater integration of the social sciences with the physical sciences and hydrological sciences, in particular I think we need to have a much better handle on the economic costs and benefits of different courses of action,” says Anthony Cox, head of Economy and Environment Integration Division of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Fritz Holzwarth, federal minister for the environment, nature conservation and nuclear safety of Germany, says, “I think that the Water Scenarios and Water Futures initiative could become a real basis for the next 10–15 years in water because the scenario approach would overcome the very traditional and classical approach which follows a business as usual line. Water scenarios are able to set new options, new possibilities, new foundations also for political decisions, and they can also review the business as usual approach. However, it is very important to make clear that the business as usual approach is not valid any longer.”

Managing water resources both at the national and international levels has grown more complex because of the unique physical, geographic, and political characteristics of water. Water affects the entire spectrum of socio?economic development.

“There is an urgent need to develop appropriate water management frameworks, infrastructure, and knowledge sharing that works for sound and sustainable corporation between people whose lives depend upon shared water resources,” says UNESCO’s Hans D’Orville. “The provision and sharing of data and information
as well as the support for water resource assessment frameworks at global, regional, national and basin scales are essential elements for sound water resources management.”

In addition to the consensus among participants during the launch meeting that the project was important there was also strong interest in participation and agreement on steps moving forward. The initial governing board met prior to the kick?off meeting of the 7th World Water Forum in May, and the board will be established by the Budapest World Water Summit in October. The initiative will include two stakeholder groups to ensure the usefulness and feasibility of the process and outcomes; The Scenario Focus Group and the Sector Actors group, who will hold their first meetings in June.

A full report of the meeting is now available.

“Why are World Water Scenarios important?”

Click the button below to read what people are saying about the World Water Scenarios initiative.

Print this page

Last edited: 25 June 2013

Meeting Report

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria
Phone: (+43 2236) 807 0 Fax:(+43 2236) 71 313