EXPERT VIEW: World needs to start regulating water demand - World Water Council head

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 24 July 2012 10:45 GMT
Countries need to regulate demand, consume less and manage water resources better, says World Water Council's head

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By Megan Rowling

LONDON (AlertNet) -  In a world where water is becoming increasingly scarce, countries need to regulate demand, consume less and manage their existing resources better, says the head of the World Water Council.

Loïc Fauchon, president of the council - which has more than 300 member bodies in over 60 countries, including governments, businesses and water-focused NGOs – believes water should not be doled out free to everyone in unlimited quantities. But the poorest must be guaranteed enough to meet their basic needs.

The water expert, who also runs the Water Supply Group of Marseille (Groupe des Eaux de Marseille) in France, told AlertNet that all countries are going to have to get serious about reducing their per capita consumption of water.

Q: How do you see growing water scarcity reshaping the world by 2050?

A: We have a thirst triangle from the west Mediterranean – from Gibraltar to Pakistan, returning to the Horn of Africa and back to Gibraltar. In this area you have 1 billion to 1.5 billion people, and the water resources are not sufficient. It is creating some conflicts – not wars, but conflicts. And we need to help these countries to be able to use new kinds of water resources. For example, there could be more transfer of water from one region to another, as has been done in Algeria.

We need more desalination, which is cheaper than before. (We need) more recycling of water, which is the case, for example, in Morocco today, and is now beginning in Saudi Arabia. And also more capacity to pump water (from) deeper and deeper (in the ground).

At the same time, some (nations) – for example, Egypt and the Gulf countries – are wasting too much water. Qatar (with a population of 2 million)... is the top country for water-wasting in the world, using more than 1,000 litres per day per person. For example, in the UK and France, it is about 200 litres, sometimes less. And so - consume less, manage better, which will be one of the most important priorities.

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These countries where scarcity is a reality... they will be obliged to discuss together, like Turkey has done with Iraq and Syria in recent years. Around the Nile Basin, more facilitations have to be implemented to help the countries discuss together and to have a new water treaty concerning the sharing of water all over the basin.

Q: Who will the winners and losers be?

A: (The winners will be) those who will be able to implement very strong demand regulation policies. It will be very, very important – and not only in the  countries where water is scarce but all over the world.  Look at California, which three years ago began a very drastic plan to decrease the consumption of water. They managed in two to three years to cut consumption of water by 20 percent.

I can say that all countries in the world will be obliged to do that, because of demography, because of urban concentration, becaue of climate evolution etc. But the winners will be those who are able to have the capacity to manage their water resources correctly to meet needs.

Q: How important is pricing of water in regulating demand?

A: It is one of the elements – not the only one – but it is very important to find a good price for water. The  experience of delivering water for free has been very unsuccessful. My personal opinion as an operator (head of a water company) is that we need to implement social regulations – which could be, for example, some free allocations.

The political authority, it could be national or local, has to decide to deliver, for example, 200 or 300 litres for families every day... and the rest has to be paid for, and if you are consuming more and more, the price goes higher and higher. In the city of Marseille we will probably start this (system) next year in order to be able to consume less water and at the same time to be able to present better equity for the consumer.

But the situation is very different from one country to another. There is not one solution; there are a lot of solutions, considering the situation of the poorest people in order to be able to respect the right to water. And the first way to respect the right to water is to be able to deliver enough water for the dignity of the person.

Q: Could water be traded as an international commodity?

A: You cannot have the same politics, the same decisions, the same rules in sub-Saharan countries and Eastern Europe. It is very, very different. So that’s the reason why water security has to be defined at the national level, and after at the regional level.

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