Managing water resources rationally

Managing water resources rationally

Water crisis is closely related to the flaws of contemporary economics and politics.

The deficit of fresh water is becoming increasingly severe and widespread. Unlike other resources, there is no substitute for water. Accessible supplies of fresh water are limited, and people's needs keeps rising.

It is simply no longer possible to continue to consume fresh water at 20th century levels. In poorer countries, millions of people die each year from using untreated water because they have no alternative. According to a worldwide study conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), 80 per cent of infectious diseases and epidemics are caused by bad water.

Before formulating a policy to address the global water crisis, we must first of all recognise its true causes.

First and foremost is the growth of the world’s population and of agricultural, industrial, and energy production, which are the main consumers of water. Then there are the environmental consequences of economic activities and the destruction of natural ecosystems, the wasteful use of water and other natural resources in an economy driven by the lure of hyperprofits and excessive consumption, and mass poverty and backwardness in countries where authorities are not able ­and often have no desire­ to organise effective water management. And finally there is the arms race and the senseless waste of enormous amounts of wealth and resources in wars and conflicts.
It is thus clear that the water problem cannot be successfully addressed in isolation from other global challenges and the overall international context.

Right to water

Green Cross International (GCI) has been working for twenty years at the nexus of problems of security, poverty, and the environment. Some time ago, GCI launched the Water for Life and Peace initiative. We proposed developing an international convention on the right to water, and in July 2010 a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognised the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights.

What is needed now is the practical implementation of this principle. Until now, only a few countries have included the right to water in their national legislation.

GCI is taking an active role in the development of measures aimed at preserving and rationally managing water resources. GCI is working to speed the entry into force of the United Nations Convention on non-navigational uses of international waterways; at the same time we are implementing specific projects to guarantee the right to water.
I am convinced that the water crisis is closely related to the flaws of contemporary economics and politics.

We are living at a time when the world is still reeling from the consequences of a severe global economic crisis. The emerging signs of recovery in the world economy should not deceive us.

The crisis has shown that the currently dominant model of economic growth is unsustainable. Indeed, this model engenders crises, social injustice, and the danger of environmental catastrophe. There is a clear need for an evolutionary but sufficiently rapid transition to a different model that will have to include a combination of markets and private initiatives with the principles of social and environmental responsibility of business and effective government regulation.

We therefore need to rethink the goals of economic development. Consumption must not remain the only or the principal driver of growth. The economy needs to be reoriented to goals that include public goods such as a sustainable environment, people's health in the broadest sense of the word, education, culture, and social cohesion, including closing the glaring gaps between the rich and the poor.

Major water projects, both national and international, could become one of the engines in a qualitatively new stage of the development of the global economy.

The world needs a new political architecture, a new architecture of security, global governance and sustainable development. It should be based on the rejection of confrontational thinking or any attempts to dominate international relations and on the demilitarisation of international politics. Only on such a basis will we be able to respond to the main challenges of this century: the challenge of security, the challenge of poverty and backwardness, and the challenge of the global environmental crisis.

(The writer was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1985-1991)

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