Water Scarcity

Water Scarcity

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Diane D’Arras

President of the International Association of Water (IWA)

23 Dec 2017
Q&A by REVOLVE

Water
This editorial is featured in REVOLVE #26 on pages 61.

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What are the key challenges to combat water scarcity in the Mediterranean region and worldwide? Is there a difference?

Yes, there is a difference. People do not use the same amount of water around the world – it depends where they are located. In fact, water scarcity is the relation between the need and the availability of water. Therefore, the notion of scarcity is relative. Scarcity occurs, if a country is not about to provide enough water for agriculture, industry, personal use and sanitary water. For example, surprisingly Belgium or parts of England, despite for being known as rainy, they face water stress because of the high amount of people living on a relatively small area. In such cases, countries import water and the concept of virtual water comes into play, meaning that the export of goods such as corn is related to the export of water. Water scarcity is a challenge – in the sense of understanding and organization of demand and supply of water.

What are the solutions for these water challenges?

The first solution is raising awareness with politicians, professionals and society about the importance of water. Everybody should know about water saving, for example in terms of sanitation as well as food. Other industries showcase that it is possible to raise awareness. The energy sector has developed an understanding of energy saving in all areas. By developing awareness and understanding we can be more water efficient. Utilities have started to increase the awareness of their clients about water issues. Building consciousness is done by sharing data – not just consumption at the tap, but also water used for food production. There is no need for everyone to become vegetarian, but it is important for people to be aware of the amount of water in meat production. The second solution is to develop water technologies like recycling and reusing. Many of IWA members are not in favour of recycling water of the personal use, but rather reusing it for agriculture and industrial uses.

Water scarcity is the relation between the need and the availability of water.

At the EIP Water Conference 2017, you claimed that it is highly important to work together to improve water conditions. What does good collaboration mean in the water sector?

Start sharing experiences. From developing the technology over pilots and demonstration projects up to commercialization it is necessary to spread the experience – the constraints and next steps. There are two ways of sharing. First, it is necessary to share outcomes from research projects, for example WssTP shares knowledge from developing technology. Second, international project implementation, introducing pilots together with players from different countries, is a very good method to share knowledge.  Every industry does it. The problem in the water sector is that every step takes 10 or 15 years. Regarding the slow nature of the water sector it is important to share knowledge and experience from the beginning about how to introduce water innovations efficiently. Working together can be challenging and it takes time, but in the end there is the advantage of a common buy-in and it is more likely to spread water innovations and have long-term impact.

How do you evaluate water scarcity coverage in the media? Do you think it should be a bigger topic?

I would be happy to see water scarcity presented by the media, but it has to be done the right way. Water topics should be presented with good and simple figures. Many people do not know the price and measurement of water, water consumption for personal use, agriculture, industry and te environment. Complex data is useless for explaining these topics and even creates fear. For effective communication, tangible figures and data are essential. IWA has developed the report “The Principle of Water-wise Cities” that demonstrates the steps to develop water-wise cities.