Water should remain where it is, wherever possible. Nature placed water where it belongs. Tampering with nature by removing vast amounts of water from watersheds has the potential to destroy ecosystems. Large-scale water removal affects not only the immediate systems, but also ecosystems far beyond. Water is not being wasted by running into the sea. The cumulative effects of removing water from lakes, rivers and streams for export by tankers has disastrous large-scale implications on coastal and marine environments, as well as on the indigenous people of the region, and others whose livelihoods depend upon these areas.
Whilst there may be an obligation to share water in times of crisis, just as with food, it is not a desirable long-term solution for either the ecosystems or people of any region of the world to become dependent upon foreign supplies for this life-giving source. By importing for this basic requirement, a dependant relationship would be established that is not good for either side. By accepting this principle, we learn the nature of limitations of water and to live within them, and we begin to look at our own regions, communities and homes for ways to meet our needs whilst respecting water's place in nature.
Because water belongs to the earth and all species, decision-makers must represent the rights and requirements of other species in their policy choices and actions. Future generations also constitute ‘stakeholder’ status requiring representation in decision-making about water. Nature, not man, is at the centre of the universe. For all our brilliance and accomplishment, we are a species of animal that needs water for the same reasons as other species. However, unlike other species only human beings have the power to destroy ecosystems upon which all depend, and therefore we have an urgent need to redefine our relationship to the natural world.
It is essential to conserve water now, for the future. Each generation must ensure that the abundance and quality of water does not diminish due to its activities. The only way to solve the problem of global water shortage is to radically alter our habits, particularly when it relates to water conservation. People need to rediscover their reverence for water and its place in nature.
People living in wealthy countries of the world must alter their patterns of water consumption, especially those in water-rich bioregions. If they do not change these habits, any reluctance to share their water – even for sound environmental and ethical reasons – will rightfully be called into question.
There needs to be a reduction in the demand for water to manage the finite supply. To achieve this aim, we must reduce human population numbers to sustainable levels. Also, we must focus upon sustainable use of water, rather than simply emptying reservoirs and lowering water tables.
In many countries, water supplies are rapidly depleting. It is necessary to reduce water use if our requirements for the future are to be met and for the needs of other species. Human beings should not have a monopoly on the use of water for their own consumption.
We need to improve the quality of recycled water, and to develop efficient ‘closed-loop’ systems where used water is returned into the system. If water had a greater value, recycled water could be sold as input to industrial or agricultural processes.
The key to maintaining sustainable ground water supplies is to ensure that net extractions do not exceed recharge. A quantity of water destined for cities and agribusiness will have to be restored to its natural environment. Large tracts of aquatic systems must be set aside for preservation; governments must agree upon a global target. The planning of major dams must be placed on hold, and some current river diversions must be re-oriented to either reflect a more natural seasonal flow, or be de-commissioned completely.
Governments will tax the private sector adequately to pay for infrastructure repair. All levels of governments will work together to set targets for global aquatic wilderness preserves.
Infrastructure improvement must become a priority of governments in all areas to curtail the huge loss of water through ageing and damaged systems. Funding needs to be increased for small-scale projects which are more sensitive to environmental and local communities.
Governmental subsidies of wasteful corporate practices must end. We must eradicate water subsidies that encourage waste, and target subsidies to encourage sustainable management. By refusing to subsidise abusive water use, governments will send out the message that water is not abundant, and that it cannot be wasted.
Polluted water must be reclaimed. The human race has collectively polluted the world's water supply, and must collectively take responsibility for reclaiming it. Water shortages and pollution are caused by economic values that encourage over-consumption and grossly inefficient use of water. These values are wrong. A resolution to reclaim polluted water is an act of self-preservation. Our survival, and the survival of all species, depends upon restoring naturally functioning ecosystems. WHO estimates the cost of improving sanitation in Third World countries to be approximately $145 per person. This is approximately 10% of the real GDP per capita.
During the International Drinking Water and Sanitation decade between 1981 and 1990, improvements were made, and an additional 1.2 billion people were given access to safe water.
Governments at all levels and communities in every country must reclaim polluted water systems and halt –via every possible means – the destruction of wetlands and water systems habitat. Rigorous law and enforcement must address the issue of water pollution from agriculture, municipal discharge and industrial contaminants – the leading causes of water degradation. Governments must re-establish control over transnational mining and forestry companies, whose unchecked practices continue to cause untold damage to water systems.
In order to take the kind of action required by all levels of government and communities worldwide, it is imperative that we reach an agreement on a set of guiding principles and values.
The water crisis cannot be examined in isolation from other major environmental issues, such as clear-cutting of forests and human-induced climatic change. The destruction of waterways due to clear-cutting severely damages fish habitat. Climatic change will cause extreme conditions. Floods will be higher, storms will be more severe and droughts will be more persistent. The demand on existing freshwater supplies will magnify. An international commitment to reclaim damaged water is required, in order to dramatically reduce human impact upon the climate.
Water is a public trust that must be guarded at all governmental and community levels. No one has the right to appropriate it or profit from it at someone else's expense, as water – like air – belongs to the earth and all species.
For that reason, water must not undergo privatisation, or be commodified, traded or exported in bulk for commercial purposes. Governments worldwide must take immediate action to declare that the waters in their territories are for the public good, and to enact strong regulatory structures to protect them. Water must be immediately exempted from all existing and future international and bilateral trade, and investment agreements. Governments must ban commercial trade in large-scale water projects.
Governmental spending must be increased in order to improve water supply management.
While it is true that governments have failed in protecting their water heritage, it is only through democratically controlled institutions that this situation can be rectified. If water is clearly established as a commodity to be controlled by the private sector, decisions about water will solely be made on a for-profit basis.
Natural watersheds are the best protection for water. The future of a water-secure world is based upon the need to live within naturally formed ‘bioregions’ or watersheds. Bioregionalism is the practice of living within the constraints of a natural ecosystem. The surface and ground water conditions peculiar to a watershed constitute a set of essential parameters that govern virtually all life within a region. Other characteristics, for example, flora and fauna, are related to hydrological conditions of the area. Therefore, if living within the ecological constraints of a region is a key factor in developing a sustainable society, watersheds are an excellent starting point for establishing bioregional practices.
An advantage to thinking in watershed terms is that water flow does not respect nation-state borders. Watershed management offers a more interdisciplinary approach to protecting water. It is also a way to break the gridlock among international, national, local and tribal governments and which has continually plagued water policy worldwide. Watersheds – not political or bureaucratic boundaries – will lead to more collaborative protection and decision-making.
Global sustainability cannot be achieved unless we seek greater regional self-sufficiency. Building our economies on local watershed systems is the only way to integrate sound environmental policies with peoples' productive capacities, and at the same time protect our water.
Each governmental level must protect its water trust; municipalities must stop raiding the water systems of rural communities. Watershed cooperation will protect larger river and lake systems. National and international legislation will bring the rule of law to transnational corporations, and end abusive corporate practices. Governments should own and regulate water, and protect the environment.
Every person should have access to enough safe water at an affordable cost for personal needs. Every person in the world has a right to clean water and healthy sanitation systems, no matter where they are living. This right is best ensured by keeping water and sewage services within the public sector, regulating the protection of water supplies, and promoting efficient use of water. Adequate supplies of clean water for people in water-scarce regions must be ensured by the promotion of conservation and protection of local water resources.
Governments worldwide must implement a ‘local sources first’ policy to protect the basic rights of their citizens to fresh water. Legislation that requires all countries, communities and bioregions to protect local sources of water and seek alternative local sources before looking to other areas, will go a long way to halt the environmentally destructive practice of moving water from one watershed basin to another. ‘Local sources first’ must be accompanied by a principle of ‘local people and farmers first’. Local citizens and communities have first rights to local water. Agribusiness and industry – particularly large trans-national corporations – must fit into a ‘local-first’ policy or be closed down.
This does not mean that water should be ‘free’ or that everyone can help themselves. However, a policy of water pricing that respects the principle ‘local sources first’ would assist in conserving water and preserving the rights of everyone to have access to it. Water pricing and ‘green taxes’ (which raise governmental revenues whilst discouraging pollution and resource consumption) should place a heavier burden upon agribusiness and industry than upon citizens; funds collected from these sources should be used to provide basic water for everyone.
The best advocates for water are local communities and citizens. Local stewardship, and not private business or even government, is the best protector of water security. Only local citizens are able to understand the overall cumulative effect of privatisation, pollution, water removal and diversion upon the local community. Only they know the effect of job loss, or loss of local farms when water sources are taken over by big business, or diverted to be utilised elsewhere. It has to be understood that local citizens and communities are the front-line ‘keepers"’ of the rivers, lakes and underground water systems upon which their lives and livelihoods depend.
In order to be affordable, sustainable and equitable, the solutions to water stress and water shortage must be locally inspired, and community-based. Reclamation projects that work are often inspired by environmental organisations, involve all levels of government, and occasionally by private donations. However, if the local community – with its local knowledge and experience – does not guide them, these projects will not be sustained.
In water-scarce regions, traditional local indigenous technologies such as local water sharing and rain catchment systems that had been abandoned for new technology, are being revisited with some urgency. In some areas, local people have assumed complete responsibility for water distribution facilities, and have established funds to which water users must contribute. The funds are utilised to provide water to everyone in the community.
The public must participate as an equal partner with governments. A fundamental principle for a water-secure future is that it is imperative that the public are consulted and engaged as an equal partner with governments, in establishing water policy and conserving water. For too long, governments and international economic institutions such as the World Bank, the OECD and trade bureaucrats have been driven by corporate interests. Even in the rare instances that they are given ‘a seat at the table’, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and environmental groups are typically ignored. Corporations who heavily fund political campaigns are frequently given sweetheart contracts for water resources. Occasionally, corporate lobby groups actually draft the wording of agreements and treaties that governments subsequently adopt. This practice has created a crisis of legitimacy for governments everywhere.
Processes must be created whereby citizens, workers and environmental representatives are treated as equal partners in the determination of water policy, and recognised as the true inheritors and guardians of water.
Practical solutions must involve civil society, governments and industry. Success in effective water management depends upon the cooperation of governments, industry, local communities and NGOs.
Co-operation is required on an international, national and local level. Governments and local communities must work collectively to tackle issues that threaten the supply and purity of our water, and affect our ecosystems. This will effectively benefit not only the environment, but also our societies and economies.
Improved institutional mechanisms are required to settle disputes over water rights and water use, and to protect the environment. Competing national interests over rights to water tables, catchments, and rivers need to be resolved by international agreements.
Economic globalisation policies are not water sustainable; Their values of unlimited growth and increased global trade are entirely incompatible with the search for solutions to water shortage. Designed to reward the strongest and most ruthless, economic globalisation locks out the forces of local democracy so desperately needed for a water-secure future. If we accept the principle that to protect water we must attempt to live within our watersheds, the practice of viewing the world as a seamless consumer market must be abandoned.
Economic globalisation undermines local communities by allowing for easy mobility of capital and the theft of local resources. Liberalised trade and investment enables some countries to live beyond their ecological and water resource means; others abuse their limited water sources to grow crops for export in wealthy countries, and cities and industries are mushrooming on deserts. A water-sustainable society would denounce these practices.
Desalination of sea water using fossil fuels causes air pollution and greenhouse gases; and using nuclear power produces waste which remains radioactive for thousands of years. Unless the desalination process can be powered by a sustainable energy source, like solar or wind, this is not a good option for the environment.
Improved management of water is required – by consumers, and more importantly, by agribusiness. Improved irrigation techniques need to be introduced to improve the efficiency of irrigation. Despite the limitations of irrigation practices, improved techniques also have the potential to practically solve the world’s water problems by themselves. The most water-efficient irrigation methods include drip irrigation, low-pressure overhead systems and low-energy precision sprinklers. Drip irrigation is the most expensive method of these irrigation systems.
Crops may be improved by selective breeding. More data is required as to which crops grow best with little water. Crops should be planted according to their yield per tonne of water used, rather than yield per hectare of land. Subsidies to farmers of wealthier nations need to be removed, and have in place a unit price on fresh water.
Small-scale water harvesting techniques, such as earthen terraces and reforesting catchments to prevent soil erosion and improve water retention, need to be developed and utilised. Countries such as India and sub-Saharan Africa where these small-scale techniques are being utilised, are highly effective and where large-scale techniques continually fail.
There needs to be alternatives to the water dependent sewer systems. For example, composting toilets will save water, and produce fertiliser for gardens and agriculture. There needs to be more innovation if we are to solve water problems.
In developed countries, the average person spends less than 1% of his or her total personal expenditure dollars for water services. Water must be costed appropriately to prevent wastage. In areas where water is being squandered, we should increase its price. The polluter should pay for their pollution.
Water shortages caused by human mismanagement have caused immeasurable human suffering, and driven many species into extinction. In the long term, water shortages will lead to conflict, instability, and further environmental and humanitarian problems. Finding solutions is a high priority.