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Water Security Concept And Factors Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 2871 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Water security simply means availability of water and secure rights to use potable water for the present and future generations. Water security has been recognised as being important enough to be enshrined in UN Human Rights Resolutions and is now a cornerstone of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals [1] . The concept of water security includes regional and global availability of water, environment issues, access issues and water stress. Water insecurity is all pervasive in the South Asian region, visible in conflicts and tensions erupting within and across countries. Therefore, the need to integrate water security as a key component of human security is crucial.

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Availability of Water. Water is widely distributed on Earth as freshwater and salt water. The bulk of the water on Earth is regarded as saline or salt water, which amounts to over 98% of the total water on Earth. The remainder of the Earth’s water constitutes the fresh water; this also happens to be very unevenly distributed. Nearly 70% of the fresh water is frozen in the icecaps of Antarctica and Greenland. Besides this, most of the remainder is present as soil moisture, or lies in deep underground aquifers as groundwater not accessible to human use. Only less than 0.1% of the world’s fresh water (~0.007% of all water on earth) is accessible for direct human uses [2] . This is the water found in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and those underground sources that are shallow enough to be tapped at an affordable cost.

Water Consumption. The six billion people of Planet Earth use nearly 30% of the world’s total accessible renewal supply of water. By 2025, that value may reach 70%. Yet, at present billions of people lack basic water services and millions die each year from water-related diseases. Some believe that fresh water will be a critical limiting resource for many regions in the near future. About one-third of the world’s population lives in countries that are experiencing water stress. In Asia, where water has always been regarded as an abundant resource, per capita availability declined by 40-60% between 1955 and 1990. Projections suggest that most Asian countries will have severe water problems by the year 2025.

Water Security. Water security is an elusive concept, but consensus is beginning to emerge in the world community as to its dimensions, its parameters, and the best approaches for its achievement. The Second World Water Forum Ministerial Declaration (2000), endorsed that water security implies the following:-

Human access to safe and affordable water for health and well-being.

Assurance of economic and political stability.

Protection of human populations from the risks of water-related hazards.

Equitable and cooperative sharing of water resources.

Complete and fair valuation of the resource.

Sustainability of ecosystems at all parts of the hydrologic cycle.

Dimensions of Water Security

The issue of water security has several dimensions such as competing uses, degradation of quality and scarcity. World Bank defines it as a combination of increased productivity and diminished destructivity of water. In the past, the competition for water has triggered social tensions and conflicts between water-use sectors and provinces as the domestic demands for water has forced governments to plan and invest in grand water projects such as the River-Linking Project by India and Three Gorges project by China. The water profile of the region with complex interdependencies implies that internal dynamics within a nation may now increasingly manifest itself in an inter-State dimension.

Water is arguably one of humanity’s most valuable resources and that is why all ancient civilizations grew along rivers be it the Indus or the Nile. It has come under increased demand due to rapid population and economic growth and may become a constant source of conflicts both within the countries as well as between countries. South Asia is an apt case study of water both as a source of cooperation and as well as conflict. The concern for water is more pressing in the South Asian mainland consisting of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Nepal. The China factor and impact of its water policies has added another dimension to the problem.

Water scarcity is a serious and growing problem throughout the world, and the twin pressures of ‘Population Growth’ and ‘Climate Change’ will only intensify this problem. The United Nations estimates that “the number of people living in water-stressed countries will increase from about 700 million today to more than 3 billion by 2035 [3] . The developing world alone will be home to 90 % of the 3 billion people expected to be added to the global population by 2025.

It is estimated that by 2025, over half of the world’s inhabitants will be directly affected by water scarcity. Most of them will live in either China or India. China has access to about 7% cent of the world’s water resources, but is home to around 20% of the global population, while India possesses around 4% of water resources with only a slightly smaller populace [4] . Both countries, along with eight other Asian nations and 47% of the world’s people, are heavily dependent on the Tibetan Plateau for water. Any water policies for the region therefore will have a transnational impact.

Measured by conventional indicators, water stress, which occurs when the demand for water exceeds the available amount during a certain period or when poor quality restricts its use, is increasing rapidly, especially in developing countries like India and China. According to the 2006 Human Development Report [5] , approximately 700 million people in 43 countries live below the water-stress threshold of 1,700 cubic meters per person. By 2025, this figure will reach 3 billion, as water stress intensifies in China, India, and South Asia.

Factors Determining Water Security

The scale of the ever-present societal challenge of achieving and sustaining water security is determined by many factors, of which three stand out. First there is the hydrologic environment, the absolute level of water resource availability, its inter- and intra-annual variability and its spatial distribution, which is a natural legacy that a society inherits. Second, there is the socio-economic environment, the structure of the economy and the behavior of its actors, which will re¬‚ect natural and cultural legacies and policy choices. Third, there will be changes in the future environment, with considerable and growing evidence that climate change will be a major part. These factors will play important roles in determining the institutions and the types and scales of infrastructure needed to achieve water security.

The Hydrologic Environment

Relatively low rainfall variability, with rain distributed throughout the year and Perennial River ¬‚ows sustained by groundwater base ¬‚ows, results in hydrology that is relatively “easy” to manage. Achieving a basic level of water security is straightforward and requires comparatively low levels of skill and investment (primarily because water is suf¬cient, widespread and relatively reliable). “Dif¬cult” hydrologies are those of absolute water scarcity (i.e. deserts) and, at the other extreme, low-lying lands where there is severe ¬‚ood risk. Even more dif¬cult is where rainfall is markedly seasonal or where there is high inter-annual climate variability. With increasingly “dif¬cult” hydrology, the level of institutional re¬nement and infrastructure investment needed to achieve basic water security becomes signi¬cantly greater. Not coincidentally, most of the world’s poor face dif¬cult hydrologies.

A legacy of trans-boundary waters, hydrologic and political or a “trans-boundary” hydrologic legacy can signi¬cantly complicate the task of managing and developing water to achieve water security owing to inter-jurisdictional competition both within and between nations. While this is clearly apparent in federal nations with some state sovereignty over water, it is particularly acute in the case of international trans-boundary waters. Re¬‚ecting this complexity, the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses was under preparation for twenty seven years prior to adoption by the UN General Assembly in 1997 and has not been entered into force. Many of today’s trans-boundary basins are the result of 20th Century colonial borders that cut across watersheds and created international rivers, particularly in South Asia.

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The Socio-Economic Environment

Water Infrastructure and Institutions. Investments in water infrastructure and institutions are almost always needed to achieve water security. Countries with “dif¬cult hydrology” will invariably need more infrastructure and stronger institutions, with the development of each of these being greatly complicated where waters are trans-boundary. In almost all societies, man-made assets have also been developed, from simple small-scale check dams, weirs and bunds that became the foundation of early cultures, to, at the other end of the scale, investment in bulk water management infrastructure typically developed by industrializing countries, such as multipurpose dams for river regulation and storage and inter-basin transfer schemes.

Macroeconomic Structure and Resilience. The structure of economies plays an important role, with more vulnerable economies requiring more investment to achieve water security. Historical investments in water management institutions and infrastructure, the economy’s reliance on water resources for income generation and employment and its vulnerability to water shocks will all be relevant.

Risk and the Behaviour of Economic Areas. In the poorest countries, where survival is a real concern for large parts of the population and there are few functional social safety nets, economic actors tend to be extremely risk averse, investing only after there is signi¬cant demonstration of returns. Countries with “dif¬cult” hydrology, such as India and Pakistan may well face the highest risks; yet have the most risk-averse populations, the lowest infrastructure investment and the weakest institutions.

Climate Change

Climate change is making water security harder to achieve and sustain. Global climate change is likely to increase the complexity and costs of ensuring water security. Overall, climate change is expected to lead to reduced water availability in the countries that are already water scarce and an increase in the variability with which the water is delivered. This combination of hydrological variability and extremes is at the heart of the challenge of achieving basic water security. The water security challenge will therefore be compounded by climate change and it will require signi¬cant adaptation by all countries. This will particularly be the case in poor countries which lack the institutions and infrastructure to manage, store and deliver their water resources and where climate change will be superimposed on existing and in some cases extreme vulnerabilities.

According to various scientific reports, by 2050 Himalayan glaciers will have receded by 27.2%. Slow depletion of these glaciers would greatly reduce the river water flow especially to India, intensifying existing problems of water scarcity and competition. Similar changes will affect the 11 Asian countries to which Himalayan waters flow [6] . A 2009 Purdue University study, predicts an eastern shift in monsoon circulation caused by the changing climate, which today causes more rainfall over the Indian Ocean, Bangladesh and Burma and less rainfall over India, Nepal and Pakistan. This shift raises serious concerns for the countries expecting decreased rainfall. Summer monsoon rainfall provides 90% of India`s total water supply and as the effects of climate change become more pronounced, agrarian populations in India and Pakistan dependent on monsoons and glacial melt for irrigation will be profoundly affected.

International Conventions on Water Sharing

Water knows no boundaries and flows in keeping with the lay of the ground, requiring Riparian International Water Laws to govern the non navigational use. The 1815 Law for the Navigational Use of International Waters secured the vital sea lines of communication between the western countries and the colonial powers. Ironically, no such laws were created for management of the river courses.

United Nations General Assembly Convention. In 1966, the International Law Association adopted the Helsinki Rules, which provide a set of guidelines for ‘reasonable and equitable’ sharing of common waterways. In 1970, the United Nations General Assembly commissioned is own legal advisory body, the International Law Commission (ILC), to study “Codification of the Law on Water Courses for Purposes other than Navigation.” The first formal attempt to manage the riparian waters was the 1997 Draft United Nations Convention, which is yet to be ratified by the requisite number of countries.

The convention has been criticized as it is practically impossible to have one convention that would incorporate all possible scenarios, as also a specific convention would be unacceptable to all members of the UN as needs and demands defer from region to region and country to country.

Generalized Principles of Trans-boundary Water Allocation

Water has become a significant source of conflict and has led to differing perceptions between various states such as the Arabs and Israelis, Americans and Mexicans, and among all ten Nile basin co-riparians. The generalized principles to mitigate problems of water allocation include Absolute Sovereignty, Absolute Riverine Integrity, Limited Territorial Sovereignty and Economic Criteria [7] . These can be summarized as under:-

Absolute sovereignty is based on hydrography and implies unilateral control over waters within a nation’s territory while the doctrine of absolute riverine integrity emphasizes the importance of historical usage, or chronology, and suggests that every riparian has a right to the waters that flow through its territory.

Limited territorial sovereignty reflects the right to reasonable and equitable use of international waters while inflicting no significant harm on any other co-riparian while the principle of economic criteria uses the market to allocate water among competing users in an economically efficient manner.

Approaches to Water Security

In trying to understand the various actors and their approaches on the issue of water, it is important to recognise at the outset that there are plurality of actors in the water sector-the state which includes governments, bureaucracy and the state machinery, who can also be termed the “managers” and the market; civil society organisations and groups; water communities or water users; and knowledge institutions. Each group is characterised with its own strategies and approaches, and within each group there are differences and variations.

Technology Solutions. As the demand for this scarce resource increases daily, it has become an urgent necessity that water should be conserved and wastage of this scarce resource should be minimized. Some of the important techniques such as rainwater harvesting, recycling, infrared or foot operated faucets, drip irrigation method etc economise the usage of water but there is a requirement to evolve technology solutions to this crisis.

Drainage Basin Approach to Water Security. Drainage basins are an essential, if not the only factor in reducing water stress. They have also been historically important for determining territorial boundaries, particularly in regions where trade by water has been important. It is therefore natural to manage water resources on the basis of individual basins because the drainage basins are coherent entities in a hydrological sense.


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