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Got Water?

January 15, 2013

by Jude Al-Sajdi

Water scarcity has become a pressing issue for an increasing number of countries around the world. The problem is quite simple; water demand is exceeding water supply.  The solution looks straightforward from the outside; these countries should either cut down on their water consumption or find new sources of water to meet their demand. Thereby there are two schools of thought in the world of water, proponents of water demand management and proponents of water supply solutions. Here are the arguments of each in a nutshell.

Water Supply. Proponents of water supply solutions argue that urban centers and rural villages are in desperate need for water, and the fastest way to get them this water is supply side projects. Supply side projects are expensive indeed, and in some cases their costs exceed the budgets of these countries, however they ensure that people do not die of thirst.

Demand Management: Change, Institutions, Politics. Proponents of water demand management on the other hand argue that water demand is greatly mismanaged, and if correct management is enforced, there would be plenty of water for everyone without having to spend millions of dollars on supply side projects and exacerbating debt burdens on governments.

From a rational point of thinking, water demand management makes sense. If people save some water and become more conscious of their water consumption, then no one would be thirsty. Then why are people in water scarce countries dying out of thirst? And why hasn’t water demand management worked in these countries? The answer is one word: change.

Demand management requires people to change their habits and ways of doing things. Given that human behavior doesn’t easily change, and old habits die hard, demand management is difficult to enforce. But that’s not only it. Demand management not only requires people to change their habits but institutions as well. And this – as everything else in life – involves a great deal of politics. In many countries governments opt for supply side solutions for two reasons: they are the easy way out and they do not upset anyone.

As Turton perfectly puts it:

‘In hydro-political terms, just as water is needed by people to sustain life, engineering solutions like pipelines are needed to sustain governments under conditions of water scarcity. The metaphor can be continued further. Just as water flows down a pipeline, power flows too – the latter is just a little more difficult to detect and quantify’ (Turton, 2000:16).

Next post will take Jordan to illustrate the water problem. Jordan is number four in the world in terms of water scarcity and one of the major challenges that the country faces is its rapid population growth which has led to a serious imbalance in the Kingdom’s population-water equation, with a per capita availability of 145 m3/year, which is considerably below the 500 m3/year water poverty line (MWI, 2008:4). Understanding the water problem in Jordan can offer interesting insights for other countries.

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