Jaehyang So, Director, Trust Funds and Partnerships, World Bank, wrote a partner perspective article for The Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) global partnership in advance of the April 11, 2014 SWA High-Level Meeting. Read the article below, courtesy of SWA.
On a warm Friday afternoon in the slums of Madhukam, in the heart of Ranchi, India, a middle-aged man arrived at a public water station with two 20-liter containers to fill. The water station - directly adjacent to an open sewage drain - was really just a concerete wall with four pink spigots protruding from its barren surface. On top perched two large, seemingly empty holding tanks of water. The man placed one of his containers under the first spigot and turned the handle. A small flow of water came out. Within a minute, the flow turned into a trickle, and the trickle quickly became nothing. The man moved to the next spigot, and then the next, only to have all four repeat the same pattern. In the end, the man left carrying only six ounces of water in his two 20-liter containers.
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China’s most arid regions are facing an increasingly serious water crisis, and local water policies often aggravate the problem. In such climates, growth in the agricultural sector has come with high environmental costs.
With the help of new technologies that measure real water consumption in agriculture, governments are designing innovative water rights systems that actually save water. Based on results from two successful pilots, the World Bank Group is partnering with China to tap into science to transform water management in agriculture at the national level.
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region there is really very little choice. The region only receives about two percent of the world’s annual precipitation and holds about 1.2 percent of the world’s renewable water resources. This makes water a deeply precious and scarce resource. The statistics are stark: The amount of water consumed in the United States averages 2,800 cubic meters per person per year, whereas in Yemen, it is 100 cubic meters per person.
The theme of this year’s #worldwaterday focuses on water and energy. And for good reasons.
For the last six years, a power plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico has bought water from a nearby wastewater treatment plant to use in its cooling towers (instead of using freshwater). This operation, Project Tenorio, a public-private partnership, continues today and has already resulted in the reduction of groundwater extraction of at least 48 million cubic meters (equivalent to 19,000 Olympic size pools) and increased aquifer sustainability.
This is a good example of the water and energy nexus in practice: the wastewater treatment plant covers almost all of its operating costs from this additional revenue stream and the power plant gets a more reliable water source that is also 33% cheaper than groundwater in that area.
Treated wastewater has been used to reduce the water requirements of power plants in several other countries as well, as water supply becomes more variable or disappears. In the US, for example, around 50 power plants are using treated wastewater for cooling in order to adapt to water shortages. However, innovative integrated approaches like these are still more of an exception than the norm.
While recently touring drought-stricken California, President Obama remarked: "We can't think of this simply as a zero-sum game. It can't just be a matter of there's going to be less and less water so I'm going to grab more and more..."
In his State of the State address, California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, declared a drought emergency. He suggested: “Among all our uncertainties, weather is one of the most basic. We can’t control it. We can only live with it…We can take this drought as a stark warning of things to come.”
He further emphasized the need to conserve water, expand storage, rethink water rules, invest in drinking water protection, and rethink the amount of state water each sector receives.
But, how can California move away from existing rules, expectations, and legacies that include multi-layered federal subsidies and senior water rights to a non-zero sum approach to resolve competing and conflicting water realties?
The three points made in my previous post—that services particularly fail poor people, money is not the solution, and “the solution” is not the solution—can be explained by failures of accountability in the service delivery chain. This was the cornerstone of the 2004 World Development Report, Making Services Work for Poor People. In a private market—when I buy a sandwich, for example—there is a direct or “short route” of accountability between the client (me) and the sandwich provider. I pay him directly; I know whether I got a sandwich or not; and If I don’t like the sandwich, I can go elsewhere—and the provider knows that.