The future Hopeful or hopeless

The solutions necessary to meet our current and future water-related challenges have been identified in a number of excellent assessments documented within this chapter. The challenge is now to combine this knowledge and translate it into good ideas for action and at the same time seek to resolve conflicting goals. An additional challenge is to reach out to those who may not have a direct interest in water issues, but whose decisions have major impacts upon them. The water sector must better consider the facts presented in assessments such as the World Energy Outlook (IEA, 2007), where a lack of access to a basic energy supply was presented as the obstacle to achievement of the MDGs. This outlook projects a different development path than do more directly water-oriented assessments.

There is enough water in the world for all human and ecosystem needs. Locally and regionally, the provision of enough water for drinking, sanitation, food and development can be difficult, particularly in rapidly growing urban areas in semi-arid regions. But looking behind the statistics it becomes clear that much can be done, quite quickly and even easily. In many cities in developing countries, for example, leakages in water systems (over 50 per cent) can be fixed. Water subsidies in agriculture (and energy for irrigation pumps) can be reduced as an incentive to make water use more efficient. Some estimates show that up to 40 per cent of all the food being produced never reaches the consumer or is thrown away before being eaten (Lundqvist et al, 2008). Both producer and consumer efficiency can be improved.

But we also have to look at new perspectives and ideas realistically and carefully. One interesting example is illustrated by De La Torre and He (2007). If all oil-based transportation fuels should be replaced by fuels derived from biomass, about 30 million barrels of ethanol and 23 million barrels of biodiesel would be required per day. For such production, 300 million hectares of sugarcane (assuming yields similar to that in Brazil) and 590 million hectares of corn (assuming yields similar to that in the US) need to be planted to meet the ethanol needs alone. To put such numbers in a comprehensive context, this equals about 15 times the current world planting of sugarcane and 5 times the current corn planting. To meet the biodiesel demand, 225 million hectares of palm, or 20 times the current area, need to be planted. What would be the water demands? Not yet calculated! Of course, this would not be a realistic development; but it illustrates how important it is to include land and water aspects into the energy and climate change mitigation discussions.

So what can we do? There are many options but no blueprint solutions. Future investments in land and water systems will have to be much more flexible and responsive to climate opportunities. Investments should be assessed 'beyond the sector', as there may be competition (the water-food-energy nexus) and strategic opportunities. If carefully implemented, investments in, for example, climate change adaptation could represent 'no regrets' options, despite uncertainty, as they provide immediate benefits while at the same time making society better prepared for and less vulnerable to future changes, including climate change

We also need to realize that access to information relevant for policy and management is a strategic issue. Data and state-of-the-art knowledge needs to be more efficiently translated into policy- and management-relevant information. The issue of scale will be fundamentally important and knowledge transfer and capacity-building need to increasingly focus on the user's level.

The multilateral system also needs to be strengthened. Increasingly, challenges have global dimensions (e.g. the food crisis, climate change, the financial crisis, the energy crisis) and require increasing international cooperation. Multilateral systems also need to be supported to increase collaboration among different actors, which are specialized in specific areas. Water resources issues are cross-cutting and need to be addressed from that perspective. United Nations Water represents an innovative and flexible mechanism to promote such collaboration within the UN system and with key partners.

Is the lack of financial resources a real problem? Maybe this question is a bit provocative in this day and time with a global financial crisis crippling economic development. Although comparisons between different sectors can be unfair to make, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI, 2007) calculates that world military expenditures in 2006 reached US$1204 billion and represents a 3.5 per cent increase in real terms since 2005 and a 37 per cent increase over the last ten years. The average spending per capita is US$184. Again, reaching the MDG targets on water would cost US$11.3 billion annually. SIPRI also notes that the ratio of military spending to social spending was highest in those countries with the lowest per capita incomes. Such numbers show that there are financial resources available, if only the priorities would change. Neither water nor resources are in short supply, albeit unevenly distributed. Political will to promote change is still lacking - an overused generalization, but still true. To make change happen, good arguments and relevant decision-making support are needed, as is a considerable dose of optimism.

Financial End Game

Financial End Game

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