Global Water Security – The Way Forward

“WATER is not only for life … water is life.” – Antonio Guterres, United Nations/Secretary General

Water Security is the thread that links together the intricate web of food, energy, climate, economic growth and human security challenges that the world economy is expected to face over the next coming decades. Anthropogenic actions and unthoughtful exploitation of natural resources has caused severe environmental degradation and climatic transformations; floods along the Brahmaputra River in Assam and Yangtze River in China; National water disputes over the Jordan and Nile Rivers, recent debated talks over Indus Water Treaty; Contamination of groundwater with Arsenic in Bengal and Bangladesh and with Nitrates in Western Europe, Industrial waste dumping in Ganges, Yamuna in India, Danube and Volga in Europe; Cholera Epidemic in Brazil; Dengue Epidemic in Tropical Regions; Riots over irrigation issues in Gujarat; Illegal water connections in Several Indian and World Cities; Subsidence in Coastal and Island  Settlements; Water related glitches take different forms and shapes in different corners of the world.

Urban Settlements in almost every corner of the world are facing a range of problems and pressure on existing stock of resources, consequential from unprecedented population growth, climate change, deterioration of existing urban infrastructure systems and shortage in terms of User per Utility. As the water demand continues to increase in the coming future, plethora of cities will face challenges of managing scarcer and less reliable water resources more efficiently. Current Actualities on the ground and the speculations of encounters of future demand have made it recognizable that business as usual is not the way forward. Game-changing technologies and approaches that will allow optimization of water management in terms of Quantity and Quality both, and the water and energy footprint in cities need to be explored. Side by side, People must also adopt water friendly practices and myriad components of these water related problems as manifestations of interconnected and cumulative pressure on one Global Resource Treasure, need to be addressed by Governments and People collectively (Towards Water Security: A Framework for Action, 2000) .Various Countries and Regions have already adopted Economic Instruments for reducing Polluting Discharges in the Environment which can be categorized as follows:

Table: Economic Instruments for reducing Polluting Discharges

S. No. Tool Region/Country
1 Charging on the basis of Pollutants Discharged In Europe, Used in Netherlands, Germany, Eastern Europe and China
2 Tradeable Discharge Permits Shanghai, China
3 Taxing or Price reform on certain Polluting Substance Indonesia


Given the severity and vast expanse of the water related problems, we need to recognize the increasing scarcity of water and inspiration can be taken from the Dublin Principles, Agenda 21, declared during the Rio conference in 1992. (Dublin-Rio Principles, 1996) World Water Council which is an International multi-stakeholder platform organization has actively participated in the World Hydro-Politics and has been perpetual proponent of sustainable water techniques and practices namely:

  • Integrated Water Resources Management
  • Transitioning to Sustainable and Integrated Urban Water Management
  • Adopting Engineered Solutions to Water Shortages
  • Adoption of Water Pricing Mechanisms
  • Trade of Products with Higher Water Content
  • Water Education – Key for Water Security

Some of the Technological Innovations in Water Management

  1. Advancement in Salt Tolerant Crops
  2. Membrane and Other Nanotechnology Applications
  3. Water Purification through Desalination
  4. Advancements in Point of Use Water Purification Technologies
  5. Advances in large scale Drip-Irrigation Systems
  6. Extraction of Water from Air
  7. Efficient Toilets and Waste Water Treatment facilities

Along with reducing effluent discharge approaches, Improvement in Water Management can be achieved through regulatory policy framework focussing on various policy components like Pricing Mechanism, Allocation of Water Resources among various Stakeholders and Virtual Water Trading.  Robust Remote Sensing and Hydrological modelling of the Watershed can contribute in regulating enacting Water Sharing agreements. Lesson can be learnt from the Experience of Israel, which lies in one of the driest regions of the planet, and has gradually seen a decline in Rainfall which has reduced to half since 1948; but still it has managed to be Water Abundant through adoption of various water management technologies. Israel has adopted massive desalination along with Drip Irrigation, Efficient Toilets, Engineered Crops (Xeriscaping), Wastewater Treatment (Roughly 90%) and Water Pricing to discourage water misuse; which lead it to be in a position it is today.

Key & approaches to Urban Water Security

  1. Diversifying Sources of Water Intake
  2. Collaboration between various Governmental and Non-Governmental Planning and Water Institutions
  3. 4Rs: Replace, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle for Water Management
  4. Connecting Informal Settlements to Grid
  5. Smart Water Metering and Policies
  6. Open Data Platform for Water
  7. Retain water as a Public Good/No Privatization of Water
  8. Legalizing Water Vendors

Urban Water Resources has to be identified first, and accompanied by identification of stress on existing intake and thus strategies has to be formulated keeping in mind context of the particular site under consideration. Scientific contributions, addressing the above mentioned challenges, are emerging however much more needs to be done: First, new technologies are required to implement the science solutions particularly with respect to water conservation, treatment, and reuse. While there are practicable water conservation technologies around, much more is needed in the water quality domain, particularly with respect to operational regulation and exotic contaminants. (Ali Nazemi, 2017)

Some of the Technological Shortcomings and Challenges

  • Energy and Carbon Footprint of Established Water Treatment Methods and Facilities
  • Treatment of High Concentration and Toxic Industrial effluents
  • Trace High Impact Contaminants in Wastewater
  • Transform High Organic component wastewater to Renewable Energy; Microbial Methane Generation or Bio-Plastics
  • Reduce current dependence on centralized national supply grids and achieving Localized Self Efficiency

Along with existing stress on natural resources, Climate change already is, and will continue to be, one of the major environmental threats to cities around the world. Climate change has transformed the elements of water availability, water demand and climate extremes in time and space. Such changes have various implications on water security, particularly in urban regions that are highly concentrated with human population and socio-economic activities. Nevertheless, complex, and in some cases unknown, dynamics within the coupled human-water systems, combined with existing technological, socio-economic and management obstacles, introduce a new set of scientific challenges in urban regions. (Pablo Jaramillo, 2017) Therefore, Place-Specific Policies has to be framed based on rationally developed Water Management Plan, which should be based on utilization of available energy friendly, low carbon/energy footprint technologies and processes which need to be amalgamated in day to day governance of Urban Settlement; along with mass awareness about the changing Urban Water Dynamics, Climatic and Environmental Conditions.

  • Ali Nazemi, K. M. (2017). Urban water security: Emerging discussion and remaining challenges. Sustainable Cities and Society,
  • Andrea K.Gerlak, L.-P. G.-T. ( April 2018, ). Water security: A review of place-based research. Environmental Science & Policy,Volume 82,, Pages 79-89.
  • (1996). Dublin-Rio Principles. Stockholm: Global Water Partnership (GWP).
  • Pablo Jaramillo, A. N. (2017). Assessing urban water security under changing climate: Challenges and ways forward. Sustainable Cities and Society, . Towards Water Security: A Framework for Action. Stockholm, Sweden : Global Water Partnership .