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Chartered Institution of Water and
Environmental Management (CIWEM)

106-109 Saffron Hill, London, EC1N 8QS  
Tel: 020 7831 3110   Fax: 020 7405 4967

Global Water Security


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The Crystal Ball and Global Water Security

Where will we be in 2030? According to the UK Government's Chief Scientist, John Beddington, we will be in a world that will be demanding 50% more energy; 50% more food; 30% more water and this will be against a background of far greater climate variability - How do we address this 'perfect storm' scenario?

Water Withdrawal as Percentage

Water is under pressure from many sources, population increases; pollution; over-use; changing lifestyles and production of goods which require water. This ever changing dynamic is exacerbated by climate variability and the adverse impacts this has on the very countries that under greatest water stress. Water is used most heavily in agriculture, approximately 70% of the available supply globally is used for crop production, yet water for agriculture receives little attention on the world stage and this means that water policy and food policy are disconnected! Indeed the nexus includes energy, not just hydropower, or the energy required to move water to populations but equally crop production, energy used in farming, transfer of goods and energy in terms of biofuel crops, the latter competing for water and for land used to grow food.

Global Freshwater Withdrawal

There is a need to develop a paradigm shift in the way we think about water and value it as a resource. Water management solutions should be considered in the context of the entire water system, from 'cloud to coast'. This systems approach would ensure that all types of water are considered - green water, which is about 60% of all rainfall and is absorbed into the soil; blue water, which is about 40% of rainfall and established itself in lakes, rivers underground sources and grey water, which is polluted water and waste water, but it can be re-used. Such an approach is essential in managing water systems and allows us to consider both consumptive and non-consumptive uses of water.

Withdrawal and consumption water

Within this context 'embedded water' and 'water footprint' concepts can be discussed properly. How reliant are nations around the world on water that falls in other countries? Globally crops and goods are traded and they all have a 'water footprint', yet this is not taken into account at trade negotiations or when economic treaties are being agreed. Water is therefore not valued properly and the water economics of buying goods from stressed countries is not taken account of. A particular problem when the prevailing data shows that over 40% of the world's population already live in water stressed river basins, a figure that will rise to 50% by 2025.

Population living in River Basins

The need for a paradigm shift is even more apparent at the UNFCCC climate change talks where water is given little prominence in the negotiations, a surprising fact when water is at the heart of the changing climate, through droughts, scarcity, floods, more variable weather patterns. Despite over the half the world's population living in shared river basins, water is barely mentioned in text related to adaptation. Water must surely be at the centre of such discussions not on the periphery.

CIWEM together with the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Institution of Civil Engineers produced a report titled 'Global Water Security - an engineering perspective' and postulated that in order to create the paradigm shift in thinking, the following needed to happen:

  • A move to systems based approach was required;
  • Water must be at the heart of all government policy at the national and international level;
  • Embedded water/water footprint must be reviewed in a UK context including businesses and individuals;
  • The regulation of the water sector globally needs to be focussed on integrated water resource management and sustainability;
  • Water must have great prominence at UNFCCC negotiations and also at World Economic Forum sessions;
  • There should be greater emphasis on awareness raising about water, Blue, Green, Grey components; consumptive and non-consumptive uses;
  • Greater emphasis should be placed on developing better models of the water system, coupled with improving the data collection systems;
  • New tools and techniques should be developed where appropriate but there should be better application of existing technologies;
  • The science and engineering institutions and organisations should ensure that their memberships and contacts are fully aware of the systems approach outlined;
  • Science, R&D in the area of Global Water Security should be bolstered;

Such an approach will allow for proper consideration of the water-food-energy nexus in a changing climate.

Change in water availability


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Chartered Institution of Water and
Environmental Management (CIWEM)

106-109 Saffron Hill, London, EC1N 8QS  
Tel: 020 7831 3110   Fax: 020 7405 4967