Water – The risks are rising and governments must act

GLOBE-Net, September 2, 2913 -Water shortages and floods illustrate the risks posed by too little, or too much, water. By 2050 more than 40% of the world’s population will live under severe water stress and nearly 20% could be exposed to floods.

The economic value of assets at risk from floods is expected to be about USD 45 trillion by 2050. Water pollution is also increasing, adding to uncertainty about future water availability.

These water risks are exacerbated by climate change. Governments must manage them, so they do not jeopardise growing populations and cities, economic growth and food or energy security.

These are some of the key conclusions of a new OECD report Water Security for Better Lives which sets out a pioneering risk-based approach to water security and proposes practical steps to implement it. 

[stextbox id=”custom” float=”true” align=”right” width=”300″ bcolor=”58a6a3″ bgcolor=”58a6a3″ image=”null”]Governments need to speed up efforts to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in water management to better manage the risks of potential water shortages (including droughts), water excess (including floods), inadequate water quality, as well as the risk of undermining the resilience of freshwater systems (rivers, lakes, aquifers). OECD[/stextbox]

“Instead of just reacting to water crises, governments mustassess, target and manage water risks proactively”, urged OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría.

“We have been forewarned – there is no doubt these risks are increasing. We must now arm ourselves with risk management strategies that will prevent water shortages and pollution and protect against the droughts and floods that are endangering human lives, ecosystems and economies.” 

The report, released on the eve of  Stockholm World Water Week – 1-6 September, notes that water security is ultimately about establishing an acceptable level of water risk by weighing the costs of improving water security against the expected benefits, and ensuring that responses are proportional to the magnitude of the risk.

Flexibility is important, allowing acceptable levels of risk to be adjusted to changing situations. For instance, New York City is reassessing its flood protection level following Hurricane Sandy and investing billions to avoid future disasters.

Key Success Factors

The key success factors are to know, target and manage the water risks:

● Know the risk. Identify water-related risks, the likelihood and potential impact of their occurrence, how people perceive them, and make sure stakeholders have the information they need to understand and address different kinds of water risks.

● Target the risk. Consider whether the additional benefits of improved water security warrant the additional costs to society of achieving these improvements, and set levels of water risk accordingly. Policy objectives other than water security (for example food security, energy security, climate security, protecting nature) and the interrelated nature of water risks should be considered when weighing the benefits and potential costs to society of a given level of water risk.

● Manage the risk. Implement a policy mix to reduce hazards and limit exposure and vulnerability in order to achieve acceptable levels of risk at the least possible economic cost. Economic instruments can play an important role, as they can fundamentally alter the incentives facing water users, provide explicit signals about the likelihood and potential cost of water risks, and provide financing to support actions to offset risks.

Managing water risks also require a coherent approach between water policies and sectoral and environmental policies.

GLOBE2014_white _logo _black _bg 1small‘The Search for Clean Abundant Water’ is a major Theme of  GLOBE 2014, the next in the celebrated  GLOBE Series of Conferences and Trade Fairs on the business of the environment taking place in  Vancouver Canada, March 26-28, 2014. Reserve your place now.  Check here for more details.

Climate change is, to a large extent, water change.

Water is the predominant means through which the impacts of climate change will be felt, notes the OECD. More torrential rains, floods and droughts can be expected in many areas. Changing precipitation patterns are shifting rainy seasons and affecting the timing and quantity of melt water from snow pack and glaciers.

Using a risk-based approach, another new OECD report Water and Climate Change Adaptation: Policies to Navigate Uncharted Waters reviews countries’ initiatives to adapt water management to climate change.

It reveals that nearly all countries project increasing water risks due to climate change, with extreme events (floods and/or droughts) cited as a primary concern by 32 countries and 23 saying water shortage is a key issue.

“Water is the most fundamental element of our daily lives, yet it is the most undervalued and mismanaged of all of our natural resources.” GLOBE 2014

About half the countries surveyed noted that climate change impacts on water supply and sanitation are a key concern, with a similar number highlighting concerns about the impacts on water quality.

Though countries are building the evidence base to inform decisions about water risks, faced with the impacts of climate change, they should do more to better target and manage them.

The results of the survey of initiatives by OECD countries to adapt water policies to climate change are available on line at www.oecd.org/env/resources/waterandclimatechange.htm.

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