World faces water bankruptcy, says Davros report

The world is on edge of water bankruptcy in many places “with no way of paying the debt back.” That is the conclusion of a report published as a result of the World Economic Forum meeting at Davros at the end of January 2009, which warns that “the consequences for regional economic and political stability will be serious.”

The report, snappily titled World Economic Forum Water Initiative – Managing Our Future Water Needs for Agriculture, Industry, Human Health and the Environment, says that, in many places around the world, water has been consistently under-priced, leading to waste and overuse.

Stocks of groundwater have been depleted at the expense of our future water needs, the report complains. “In effect, we have enjoyed a series of regional water ‘bubbles’ to support economic growth over the past 50 years or so, especially in agriculture.”

The report goes on to warn that “a number of these regional water bubbles are now bursting in parts of China, the Middle East, the southwestern US and India; more will follow.”

The volatility in food prices in 2008 should be treated as an early warning sign of what is to come, warns the report, whose subtitle is The bubble is close to bursting.

With regard to water privatization, the report states that it can never be viewed only as a pure economic good: “Water requires government engagement in its management and reform. An unfettered reliance on markets will not deliver the social, economic and environmental outcomes needed. Good regulation in water is indispensable.”

The financial crises offers us an opportunity, says the report: “Led by government, a multistakeholder effort to improve the management of our future water needs stands out as an urgent, practical and resolvable issue that, in times of economic hardship, can bring state institutions, business and civil society together to address a commonly (and often locally) felt challenge.

“Growing water problems are recognized by rich and poor alike around the world as real issues that impact our business, our lives and our health,” the report concludes. “While some trade-offs will be inevitable, all can tangibly benefit from improvements in how water is managed.”