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War and Peace and Water

Laura Tuck's picture

This post by Laura Tuck originally appeared on Project Syndicate’s website on May 4, 2016.



Today, actual wars between countries over water resources are uncommon, owing to improved dialogue and cross-border cooperation. But, within countries, competition for scarce water is becoming a more common source of instability and conflict, especially as climate change increases the severity and frequency of extreme weather events. As we detail in our new report “High and Dry: Climate Change, Water and the Economy,” limited and erratic water availability reduces economic growth, induces migration, and ignites civil conflict, which fuels further potentially destabilizing migration.

New approaches in water resource economics

Susanne M. Scheierling's picture
In many parts of the world, changing demand and supply patterns are contributing to an increasing physical scarcity and competition for water resources. Historically, new demands have been met by developing additional supplies—with the incremental cost of water remaining relatively constant over time due to the ready availability of water development project sites to meet growing demands. As the water economy moves from an expansionary to a mature phase, incremental costs are sharply rising, and interdependencies among users and uses are greatly increasing. With this move, the issues to be addressed by water economists tend to become more pressing, broader and more complex. While in the expansionary phase structural or engineering approaches to water management tend to be the main focus, in a maturing water economy nonstructural or institutional options for solving water problems receive increasing attention. In particular, resource allocation and valuation issues move to the forefront of economic inquiry.

World Water Day: Transforming lives through better water and jobs

Jennifer J. Sara's picture

The largest sphere represents
all of Earth's water. The next
smallest sphere represents the world's
liquid fresh water. The smallest
one represents fresh surface water
in all the lakes and rivers on the planet.
Source: US Geological Survey

Water covers 70% of Earth’s surface, but if you live in Sana’a, Sao Paolo, California, or the many other areas where drought or chronic water scarcity has affected daily life, you know that abundance can be relative.

This image from the US Geological Survey shows that only a tiny fraction of Earth’s water is the accessible freshwater we need to live, grow food, sustain the environment, and power our cities and jobs.

Growing cities and populations and a changing climate are placing unprecedented pressures on water. According to the World Economic Forum, water crises are among the top risks to global economic growth. For at least 650 million people, even the water they are able to find is unsafe.

But this also offers an opportunity to provide safer water and better manage our water resources for a more resilient future.

This year, #worldwaterday focuses on the connection between water and jobs, and these connections primarily fall under two categories: productivity and sustainability.

What can Chinese cities learn from Singapore?

Wanli Fang's picture
One of Singapore’s latest redevelopment projects included the construction of a freshwater reservoir. Photo: 10 FACE/Shutterstock

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Singapore Urban Week along with other colleagues from the World Bank Beijing office, as well as delegates from China’s national government and participating cities. For all of us, this trip to Singapore was an eye-opening experience that highlighted the essential role of integrated urban planning in building sustainable cities, and provided practical solutions that can be readily adapted to help achieve each city’s own development vision. A couple of key lessons learned:

Putting people at the center of development strategies

This is only possible when planners always keep in mind people’s daily experience of urban space and invite them as part of decision-making process through citizen engagement.

For instance, in many cities, public transit has been perceived as a low-end, unattractive option of travel, causing ridership to stagnate despite severe traffic congestion. But in Singapore, public transit accounts for 2/3 of the total travel modal share in 2014. Moving around the city by metro is comfortable and efficient because transfers between different modes and lines are easy, with clear signage of directions, air-conditioned connecting corridors, and considerate spatial designs and facilities for the elderly and physically-challenged users. In addition, metro stations are co-located with major retail and commercial activities and other urban amenities, significantly reducing last-mile connectivity issues.

Where water and climate change meet

This week, the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, or COP21, will gather countries that want to take action for the climate. A central topic of these discussions will focus on the intersection of water and climate change.

Combating climate change is everyone’s business. Reducing emissions and investing in renewable energy, improving city planning and building design standards, developing more efficient transportation, and reducing deforestation (among others) all play key roles in mitigating the effects of climate change. At the same time, countries, and industries, will also need to adapt to changes in the climate as they unfold. Since climate change will significantly increase the variability of rainfall, different parts of the world will become more vulnerable to floods or droughts. 

“Water scarcity and variability pose significant risks to all economic activities, including food and energy production, manufacturing and infrastructure development,“ said Laura Tuck, World Bank Group Vice President for Sustainable Development during a recent press conference at COP21. “Poor water management can exacerbate the effects of climate change on economic growth, but if water is managed well it can go a long way to neutralizing the negative impacts.”

5 trends in public-private partnerships in water supply and sanitation

Victoria Rigby Delmon's picture

A lot has been happening in Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in the water supply and sanitation sector over the last few years, contrary to some misperceptions. Today’s market is radically different from the 1990s (dominated by the large concession model and appetite of private investors to finance projects) or the 2000s (contract terminations and nervousness about benefits that PPP could bring in the water supply and sanitation sector).

Developing countries, facing the challenges of sustainability and financial viability due to the inescapable realities of poor water supply and sanitation services and constrained budgets, are looking at PPPs as an option worth considering to help performance or to develop new sources.  Applying lessons learned from the past, with a better understanding of what PPPs in water can and cannot bring, water PPPs are being used increasingly by public utilities in a more focused way, to manage a specific subset of activities or challenges, such as increasing energy efficiency and water availability through non-revenue water management, or development of a new water source.  The focus is on performance based contracting, with payments against outputs. 

Moving toward universal, quality water and sanitation services

Junaid Kamal Ahmad's picture

The World Bank at World Water Week 2015

Access to sanitation lags behind access to water. Quality of service is poor, with intermittent supplies, continuing environmental degradation, and financially weak service providers. Moreover, future water availability is not guaranteed. Uncertainty about water resources will most profoundly affect poor populations, who often live in disaster-prone areas such as overcrowded settlements and low-lying deltas. Water variability will also strongly impact providers’ ability to maintain adequate quality and quantity of services.

There is no universal solution to these challenges, but the World Bank sees them under three broad areas: governance, finance, and capacity.

How can we ensure that we build water and climate resilient cities?

Diego Juan Rodriguez's picture

The World Bank at World Water Week 2015

As population and economic growth bump up against finite—and increasingly degraded—water resources, competition between agricultural, industrial, and municipal water uses increases, putting stress on existing water sources. This stress is felt most acutely in urban areas, particularly among the urban poor.
 
Moreover, urban water management systems are inefficient, leading to an uneven quantity and availability of water and related services. In addition, urban water management must consider the effects of climate change, including rising temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and climate variability, on water resource availability.

Addressing these challenges requires building resilience not only in cities’ physical infrastructures but also in their social architecture, governance structures, financial systems, and ecosystems. A resilient city can adapt to changing conditions and withstand shocks while still providing essential services.

Water: At a Tipping Point

Junaid Kamal Ahmad's picture

The World Bank at World Water Week 2015

The Stockholm World Water Week’s focus on “Water for Development” comes at an opportune time. Water as a sector in world affairs is reaching a tipping point. Over the next two decades and more, the global push for food and energy security and for sustaining urbanization will place new and increasing demands on the water sector. 

Ours is a world of ‘thirsty agriculture’ and ‘thirsty energy’ competing with the needs of ‘thirsty cities.’ At the same time, climate change may potentially worsen the situation by increasing water stress as well as extreme events, reminding us that the water and climate nexus can no longer be a side event at global climate talks. All of this is happening in a context where the important agenda of access to services – despite the impressive gains over the past several decades – remains an unfinished agenda, requiring an urgent push if we are to fulfill the promise of universal access.

5 potential benefits of integrating ICTs in your water and sanitation projects

Fadel Ndaw's picture

A new study was recently carried out by the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) of the World Bank on how to unlock the potential of Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) to improve Water and Sanitation Services in Africa[1]. According to a Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) report[2], in 2014 52% of all global mobile money deployments were in Sub Saharan Africa and 82% of Africans had access to GSM coverage. Comparatively, only 63% had access to improved water and 32% had access to electricity. This early adoption of mobile-to-web technologies in Africa provides a unique opportunity for the region to bridge the gap between the lack of data and information on existing water and sanitation assets and their current management — a barrier for the extension of the services to the poor.


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