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Water: Management Scenarios

WATER - this natural resource conjures different images for different people - for a householder, it is simply a turn of the tap that provides water for different everyday purposes. For a farmer, it is a life giver, for the fields and other purposes. For the industrialist, it is a resource that is critical to the manufacturing process.

But in the recent decades, water has represented a growing crisis of both extremes: too much availability or too little availability, at the micro level and at the macro level. Calls for an integrated approach to water resource management has spawned a range of organizations, institutions and programmes/projects that highlight the critical issues and develop a plan of action to facilitate implementation.

The three primary objectives of integrated water resource management are:

  1. Empower women, men, and communities to decide on the level of access to safe water and hygienic living conditions and the types of water-using economic activities that they wish-and to organize to obtain it.

  2. Produce more food, create more sustainable livelihoods for women and men per unit of water applied (more crops and jobs per drop), and ensure access for all to food required for healthy and productive lives.

  3. Manage human water use to conserve the quantity and quality of freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems that provide services to humans and all living things.
Achieving these objectives require concerted action at all levels of governance - from global to local, and the involvement of all stakeholders, again from global stakeholders to local stakeholders. Some of the key actions being recommended include - moving to full-cost pricing of water services for all human uses; increasing public funding for research and innovation in the public interest; recognizing the need for co-operation to improve international water resource management in international water basins; increasing investments in water infrastructure, and demand-based management.

The World Water Council ( has developed three global reference scenarios to facilitate a better understanding of the situation:

Scenario I: Business-as-Usual (BAU)

  • Current water resource management policies continue. Population growth, economic development and technological change remain in line with UN-family predictions.
  • Today's problems: low access to water supply and sanitation; tomorrow's problem: insufficient food production; and the long-term problem: environmental degradation - do not get resolved.
  • The limits of natural and socioeconomic systems are reached by 2025. Increasing scarcity of renewable and accessible water resources and diminishing water quality further narrow the resource base of healthy ecosystems. At best this leads to chronic problems, but catastrophes may trigger regional and even global crises.

Scenario II: Technology, Economics & the Private Sector (TEC)

  • Water is priced and water-rights are made tradable in order to improve equity, efficiency and sustainability.
  • The water sector expands, higher prices lead to increased investments, accelerated R&D and an increasing role for the private sector.
  • Social and ethical debates about use of new technologies are resolved. Biotechnology, information technology, desalination and improved water management increase water productivity. Irrigated areas are expanded, storage is increased, human water use goes up considerably.
  • International institutions remain unchanged; poor countries and poor groups within countries risk being left out of globalization. Absolute poverty decreases but income inequalities grow. The environment suffers.
Scenario III: Values and Lifestyles (VAL)
  • Education is a key pathway to developing sustainable values and lifestyles. Emphasis is on changing institutions and management, nationally and internationally
  • Community-level action drives watershed management, rainwater harvesting and focuses on increasing mean yield levels in irrigated and rainfed areas. Decision-making in the water sector is transparent and involves all stakeholders.
  • Ecological functions are recognized and maintained. Human water use is made sustainable.

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Contact: Hari Srinivas -