A long piece in The Observer about water, water scarcity and so on. While there\’s lots of scary scary stuff in there if you look for it you can see the solution.
There\’s certainly enough water for every person on the planet, but too often it\’s in the wrong places at the wrong times in the wrong amounts,\’ says Marq de Villiers, author of the 2001 book Water Wars
Hmm, that sounds like a case for trade really, doesn\’t it?
Underlying these problems is a paradox. Because water, and the movement of water, is essential for life, and central to many religions, it is traditionally regarded as a \’common\’ good. But no individuals are responsible for it. From Wadi Esseir to the arid American Midwest, farmers either do not pay for water or pay a fraction of what homeowners pay, so they have less incentive to conserve it and might deprive suppliers of funds to improve infrastructure.
Yup, it\’s a commons problem and we know how to solve those. Either by regulation or by ownership we\’ve got to regulate access to it. Purely as an aside my solution would use both. A basic low cost tariff sufficient to run a frugal household, then market pricing above that.
Another answer to the conundrum was identified by Allan, who in the Sixties became curious about why Middle Eastern countries without abundant water supplies were not suffering from a more obvious water crisis. The answer, he realised, was trade: by buying food, water-poor societies were \’buying\’ what he dubbed \’virtual water\’.
So there\’s our trade solving at least part of our problem then.
Instead the main focus is on reducing water in agriculture, through more efficient irrigation, by engineering seeds to grow in more arid and salty conditions, and even shifting crops. \’If the world were my farm, I\’d grow things in different places,\’ says David Molden.
And when all options are exhausted at home, countries have another option: to import water in food and even industrial goods. Political meddling with subsidies makes trade a controversial \’solution\’, but by favouring regions with a \’competitive advantage\’ in water it can work. Globally the IWMI estimates irrigation demand would be 11 per cent higher without trade, and quotes a projection that imports can cut future irrigation by another 19-38 per cent by 2025. Saudi Arabia has gone further than most, announcing in February that it would stop all wheat production in a few years, though other countries might now be deterred by higher food prices.
Ultimately governments are being forced down several paths at once: to raise prices to reflect the true value of water to humans and the environment, invest in technology to improve efficiency and supplies, engage in more trade, and make peace with neighbours that can hold up incoming water or food.
Quite….nice to swee that at least some people get the economics of water.