‘There is enough freshwater in the world to meet the existing and future needs of the world's population.’
PAINTING THE CONTEXT
Given the importance of water, it is a worrying fact that over 748 million people still do not have access to improved water and billions do not have access to safe drinking water. This situation can rightfully be classified as a crisis which has severe impacts on human health and the economy. For example, a lack of safe drinking water makes people prone to waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea. It also negatively affects economic activities and poverty reduction. In sub-Saharan Africa the number of people without access to safe drinking water increased by 63 million between 1990 and 2011 as a result of population growth and poor infrastructure. But also within the global water crisis a pattern of neglecting the needs of vulnerable groups in society can be identified across planning and resource allocation. These vulnerable groups can often be categorised along ethnic, geographical, and socio-economic divides but also along environmental lines.
In a nutshell, it can be said that the water crisis is ‘both a natural and a humanmade phenomenon. There is enough freshwater on the planet for seven billion people but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed.’ This crisis has many factors which are interrelated and complicate matters when suitable solutions have to be found. The main factors contributing to the water crisis can be listed as follows:
The (mis)management of water
In its first World Water Development Report, the United Nations identified that ‘the water crisis is essentially a crisis of governance and societies are facing a number of social, economic and political challenges on how to govern water more effectively.’ Governance in this area is largely failing due to a lack of adequate water institutions and fragmentation in institutional arrangements. For instance, failing to recognise that water is a topic which cuts across sectors means that many states approach water as a separate and independent sector within policy areas. At first sight, this may seem appropriate, but this approach results in a further compartmentalisation of water by dividing it between departments, policies and other authorities which then become responsible for developing separate strategies for health, food, agriculture and energy, to name just a few areas.