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Celina So


POL 448

July 29, 2017


Water is at the core of sustainable development and is critical for socio-economic

development, healthy ecosystems and for human survival itself. Ecosystems across the

world, particularly wetlands, are in decline in terms of the services they provide. Between

US$4.3 and US$20.2 trillion per year worth of ecosystem services were lost between

1997 and 2011 due to land use change (Costanza, 1997). Water is vital for reducing the

global burden of disease and improving the health, welfare and productivity of

populations. Today, 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water

services and 4.5 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services (UNICEF, 2017).

Moreover, water is also at the heart of adaptation to climate change, serving as the

crucial link between the climate system, human society and the environment. According

to a report by the United Nations World Water Development Report 2017, without proper

water governance, there is likely to be increased competition for water between sectors

and an escalation of water crises of various kinds, triggering emergencies in a range of

water-dependent sectors. By 2025, 1.8 billion people are expected to be living in

countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population

could be under water stress conditions (Programme)., 2017).

Threats to water quality and quantity are growing; new problem solving strategies are

needed to address them (Jury & Vaux, 2005). Some of the solutions needed to address

contemporary water problems are technological in nature. For example, improved

industrial processes and technologies can conserve water and improve the quality of

effluent discharges (Jury & Vaux, 2005). However, threats to water quality and

availability are strongly related to human activities, the solutions to many water problems

today exist in the realm of human behavior and governance (Simms, 2010). Furthermore,

another contemporary issue is the privatization of water and the right to access water.

And as a result, governance is needed to address these challenges.

According to the UN, governance refers to the ways in which societies are organized

to make decisions and take actions to accomplish goals. Water governance, therefore, is

concerned with the processes and institutions that exist for making decisions that affect

water (Kreutzwiser, 2010). A particularly important and widespread trend is the use of

multi-sector, collaborative approaches to governance. These involve actors inside and

outside of government coming together to share information and resources, and to work

together on common problems. In this paper, I will address the governance challenges

and then determine appropriate solutions. Furthermore, I will examine recent trends in

global water governance and identify emerging challenges for those participating in

governance must address.

Issue: Global water scarcity

In 2011, the UN Security Council recognized climate change for its security

implications, with water being the medium which climate change would have the most

effects ((WWAP), 2011). Furthermore, in his remarks to the historic 2011 Security

Council meeting, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: Around the world, hundreds of

millions of people are in danger of going short of food and water, undermining the most

essential foundations of local, national, and global stability. Competition between

communities and countries for scarce resources especially water is increasing,

exacerbating old security dilemmas and creating new ones (United Nations Secretary-

General, 2011). Correspondingly, according to a 2013 UN Water Analytical Brief

Water Security and the Global Water Agenda, it is reported that water is in itself a

security risk; and acknowledging water insecurity could act as a preventative measure for

regional conflicts and tensions. The report said water security could contribute to

achieving increased regional peace and security in the long term (Water, 2013).

According to the UN, due to bad to economics or poor infrastructure, millions of

people, and most of them being children, die from diseases associated with inadequate

water supply, sanitation, and hygiene. Water scarcity is the lack of sufficient available

water resources to meet the needs within a region (Water, 2013). It affects more than 40

per cent of the global population and it projected to rise. Furthermore, it is estimated that

783 million people do not have access to clean water and over 1.7 billion people are

currently living in river basins where water use exceeds recharge (United Nations, n.d.).

Moreover, water is closely bound up with the socio-political world, often a key factor in

managing risks such as famine, migration, epidemics, inequalities and political

instability. Since 1900, more than 11 million people have died as a consequence of

drought and more than 2 billion have been affected by drought, more than any other

physical hazard (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).


The drivers of water scarcity are well known: global water use has been growing at

more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and an increasing

number of regions are reaching the limit at which reliable water services can be delivered


2012). Demographic growth, economic development, urbanization and pollution are

putting unprecedented pressure on renewable water resources, especially in semi-arid and

arid regions. As a result, there is increasing private sector participation in water supply

and sanitation (Molle, 2008). Climate change and bio-energy demands give a further

twist to the already complex relationship between development and water demand



Over-development of hydraulic infrastructure is a main cause of constructed water

scarcity (Molle, 2008). In many river basins, the expansion of irrigated areas has boosted

demand beyond the capacity of catchments, stretched available resources and

progressively generated water scarcity. In years with low rainfall, the water demand that

has been allowed to build up during wet years cannot be satisfied, leading to a general

perception of water scarcity and generating calls for additional investments in water

saving technologies. Research has shown that over-development of infrastructure and

growing artificial scarcity often results from an alliance of financial and political interests

rather than from any legitimate need (Molle, 2008).

Furthermore, Molle (2008) contends the amount of available freshwater is decreasing

because of climate change. Climate change will affect agricultural water demand and as a

result will alter the global distribution of agriculture. More frequent and severe droughts

and floods will hurt local production, especially in subsistence sectors at low latitudes

and in key food insecure areas dominated by rain fed agriculture. This will accentuate

demand in global markets and put further pressure on irrigated production (Molle, 2008).

Rising temperatures, along with shifts in hydrological regimes of major rivers, will have

substantial impacts on agricultural water demand (FOOD AND AGRICULTURE



The impact of water scarcity includes disappearing wetlands and damaged

ecosystems. About half of the worlds wetlands have been destroyed since 1900 (Duda &

El-Ashry, 2000). Some of the most productive habitats on the planet, wetlands support

high concentrations of animals including mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates and

serve as nurseries for many of these species. Wetlands also support the cultivation of rice,

a stable in the diet of half the worlds population (Fairhurst & Dobermann, 2002).

Furthermore, they provide a range of ecosystem services that benefit humanity, including

water filtration, storm protection, flood control and creation (Fairhurst & Dobermann,

2002). In addition, when water becomes scarce, natural landscapes often lose out. For

example, the Aral Sea in central Asia was once the worlds fourth largest freshwater lake,

however, in only three decades, the sea has lost an area the size of Lake Michigan
(Fairhurst & Dobermann, 2002). It is now as salty as an ocean due to the excessive

pollution and the diversion of water for irrigation and power generation. As the sea has

retracted, it has left polluted land. This ecological catastrophe has created food shortages

and resulted in a rise in infant mortality and a decrease in life expectancy for the nearby

population (Dean, 2009).

A New York Times article, "Southeast Drought Study Ties Water Shortage to

Population, Not Global Warming ", summarizes the findings of Columbia University

researcher on the subject of the droughts in the American Southeast between 2005 and

2007. The findings published in the Journal of Climate say that the water shortages

resulted from population size more than rainfall. Census figures show that Georgias

population rose from 6.48 to 9.54 million between 1990 and 2007 (Dean, 2009). After

studying data from weather instruments, computer models, and tree ring measurements,

they found that the droughts were not unprecedented and result from normal climate

patterns and random weather events. "Similar droughts unfolded over the last thousand

years, the researchers wrote, Regardless of climate change, they added, similar weather

patterns can be expected regularly in the future, with similar results (Dean, 2009). As

the temperature increases, rainfall in the Southeast will increase but because

of evaporation the area may get even drier. The researchers concluded with a statement

saying that any rainfall comes from complicated internal processes in the atmosphere and

are very hard to predict because of the large amount of variables. In the USA, for

example, water availability has already been identified as a national security concern,

threatening its ability to meet the countrys water, food and energy needs (Bigas, 2012).

Furthermore, Bigas (2012) argues that water stress is expanding globally but especially at
mid-latitude countries that are already deemed to be water scarce, threatening to further

undermine important development progress. He also contends the increasing number of

environmental migrants moving within and beyond national boundaries is a response to

impacts from climate change and other impacts on water, and the global water crisis

grows more serious each day (Bigas, 2012).

Global Water Governance

Growing pressure on global water resources is having major impacts on our social,

economic, and environmental well-being. But despite growing recognition that the

worlds water-related challenges extend beyond national and regional boundaries, there

has been little-to-no discussion about global water governance that looks more

holistically at shared water challenges (Cooley et al. 2013). The challenge for global

water governance is the transfer of committed obligations into concrete actions that need

to be implemented on the ground for the benefit of people, ecosystems and the biosphere

as a whole. A new report from the Pacific Institute examines structures and approaches

needed to meet the challenge of sustainable water management in an interconnected


There is no single practice or policy that will solve all of our water

challenges, said Heather Cooley, co-director of the Pacific Institute Water

Program and lead author of the report. But we need to take critical steps

forward toward more efficient and effective structures and policies that

promote a sustainable approach to global water governance (Cooley et al.

2013, p. 28).
Water governance relates to the range of political, social, economic and administrative

systems that are in place to develop and manage water resources and the delivery of

water services at different levels of society (Rogers & Hall, 2003). Or put more simply,

water governance is the set of systems that control decision-making with regard to water

resource development and management. Another definition comes from a 2008 study that

defines it as the development and implementation of norms, principles, rules, incentives,

informative tools, and infrastructure to promote a change in the behavior of actors at the

global level in the area of water governance (Pahl-Wostl et al. 2008). Therefore, water

governance focuses on the processes of international cooperation and multilateralism. It

comprises formal and informal instruments including global governmental and non-

governmental organizations, regimes, actors, frameworks, and agreements created to

balance interests and meet global water challenges that span national and regional

boundaries. Water governance informs how challenges should be addressed at the

regional and international levels among various players and suggests opportunities and

barriers to meeting global objectives.

For example, when it comes to water governance in Canada, the federal government

has jurisdiction related to fisheries, navigation, federal lands, and international relations,

including responsibilities related to the management of boundary waters shared with the

United States, including relations with the International Joint Commission (Simms,

2010). In addition, it has significant responsibilities for agriculture, health and the

environment, and plays a significant role supporting aquatic research and technology, and
ensuring national policies and standards are in place on environmental and health-related

issues (Simms, 2010). In addition, within the federal government, over 20 departments

and agencies have unique responsibilities for fresh water. As all levels of government

hold key policy and regulatory levers that apply to water management, a central challenge

is to ensure that these levers are developed and used collaboratively (Simms, 2010).

Moreover, a variety of organizations are engaged in water governance. Early efforts of

such organizations within the water sector were largely focused on professional meetings,

some of which resulted in the formation of professional societies to construct common

intellectual spaces, share expertise, and stimulate and promote research (Varady et al.

2009). Over the past two decades, formal organizations with a global focus have

proliferated and now include a much broader mix of actors, including professional

societies, intergovernmental organizations, donor agencies, private-sector groups, NGOs,

and research institutes. These groups perform a wide variety of functions, such as

conducting basic and applied research, monitoring and evaluation, generating ideas and

concepts, and transferring knowledge and information.

Organizational networks are playing an increasingly important role in global water

governance. For example, Global Action Networks (GANs) are multi-stakeholder

networks organized around a specific issue. These networks share several characteristics;

in particular, they operate globally, involve robust cross-sector engagement, focus on

action and learning, and leverage the flexibility afforded by their network structure to

create social value (Programme)., 2017). For example, the Water Footprint Network is a

multi-stakeholder action network comprised of government agencies, UN bodies, private

sector actors, academia, and civil society groups that is leading efforts to use water

footprint assessments to address major issues associated with globalization and virtual

water flows. In addition, the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) is developing a

global water stewardship standard formulated through a multi-stakeholder process. Other

networks playing a more prominent role in global water governance include Blue Planet

Network, UN CEO Water Mandate, and Freshwater Action Network (Programme).,


Global Water Policies

Summits and forums have played an important role in establishing the global

conceptual frameworks and policy priorities highlighted above. In particular, they include

UN-convened meeting around sustainable development, such as the UN Conference on

the Environment and Development in 1992, the UN Summit of 2000, and the most recent

Rio+20 Summit in 2012. These meetings provide direction on the water challenges and

issues that need to be addressed by the global community, such as the major push to meet

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for access to water and sanitation; a new

emphasis on good governance in the water sector; understanding the importance and

implications of water and other sustainable development efforts; and the relationship

between climate change and water ( UN-Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and

Communication (UNW-DPAC)). Other forums, such as the World Water Forums and

World Water Week, also provide an area for the global community to exchange

information, identify challenges, and offer possible solutions toward meeting global

objectives. Furthermore, UN-Water Members and Partners work together to inform water
and sanitation policies, monitor and report on progress, and coordinate two annual global

campaigns on World Water Day and World Toilet Day.

In particular, Canada is among the countries leading the global environmental effort

toward sustainable development. Recognizing the need for better environmental

management, the federal government passed the Canada Water Act in 1970 and created

the Department of the Environment in 1971, entrusting the Inland Waters Directorate

with providing national leadership for freshwater management (Simms, 2010). Under the

Constitution Act (1867), the provinces are "owners" of the water resources and have wide

responsibilities in their day-to-day management. The federal government has certain

specific responsibilities relating to water, such as fisheries and navigation, as well as

exercising certain overall responsibilities such as the conduct of external affairs (Simms,


Water and Privatization

Both the UN and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in

conferences and appearances from the late 1970s to present have verbally recognized

water as a basic human need and even more importantly, a human right (Article 25 of the

United Nations Declaration of Human Rights). Yet worldwide, water scarcity of usable,

portable water threatens the lives of every population.

In the UN World Water Report of 2006, it was noted there is enough water for

everyone and water insufficiency is often due to mismanagement, corruption, lack of

appropriate institutions, bureaucratic inertia and a shortage of investment in both human

capacity and physical infrastructure (Shaw et al. 2016, p. 318). Hence, water scarcity is

also due to the privatization by large corporations.

Private sector participation in water supply and sanitation is controversial (Molle,

2008). Critics have contend that private sector participation led to tariff increases and has

turned a public good into a private good. Examples of aborted privatization in

Cochabamba, Bolivia and Tanzania as well as privately managed water systems in

Jakarta and Berlin are highlighted as failures (Lobina & Hall, 2003). Scholar Labonte

have argued that privatization is often associated with increase in tariffs which reduces

the accessibility of the resource for poor households (Labonte, 2004). Thus, water

privatization can hinder the accessibility of water. Furthermore, Labonte (2004) argues

when for profit companies invest in the water system, the desire to make returns on the

investment can create a top-heavy distribution system. And as a result, the desire to

supply poor districts decreases because the poor are unable to pay the tariffs, however

small they may be.


The issue examined is that one third of the worlds population is living in either water-

scarce, or water-short areas that are due to climate change and economic development.

Furthermore, the international community lacks an enforceable regime of global water

governance, and there is a controversial debate regarding the privatization of water.

The aforementioned 2006 Human Development Report provides a guideline to

address some of these issues summarized as followed:

1. Make water a human right - and mean it.

2. Draw up national strategies for water and sanitation

3. Support national plans with international aid

4. Develop a global action plan that is enforceable (Watkins, 2006)

An effective regulatory framework requires that the implementing authority has the

necessary technical and managerial capacity and performs in an independent fashion,

with sufficient powers to enforce rules and guidelines. Transparency and access to

information motivates compliance by promoting trust among users with respect to the

implementation and enforcement processes (Watkins, 2006).


To conclude, Water scarcity is growing concern and to address these issues,

recognition is growing that governments, acting on their own and using conventional

command and control policy tools, will not be able to solve the complex water challenges

we face. Therefore, alternative approaches to governance are being pursued that involves

new ways of governing, and which involve diverse combinations of people and

organizations outside of the governments. The introduction of multiple actors to decision-

making forums helps govern the responsibility of water.

In this essay, I have identified a series of global water governance challenges, the impact

and causes of water scarcity. The key is to understand the challenges and then engage

with them to shape more effective approaches to water governance. Thus, the goal of

global water governance is to encourage innovation by providing insights into

collaborative governance approaches that are taking place around the world. In addition,

the international community should develop a rigid framework for water policies and use

it as a vehicle for effective governance.

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