Water security is the gossamer that links together the
web of food, energy, climate, economic growth and human
security challenges that the world economy faces over the
next two decades.
There is a structural problem in how we manage water
across the web of our global economy. Worsening water
security will soon tear into various parts of the global
economic system. It will start to emerge as a headline
geopolitical issue. The volatility in food prices in 2008 should
be treated as an early warning sign of what is to come.
In many places around the world, we have consistently
under-priced water, wasting and overusing it as a result. We
have depleted stocks of groundwater at the expense of our
future water needs. In effect, we have enjoyed a series of
regional water “bubbles” to support economic growth over the
past 50 years or so, mainly in agriculture. We are now on the
verge of water bankruptcy in many places with no way of
paying the debt back. In fact, a number of these water
bubbles are now bursting in parts of China, the Middle East,
the southwestern US and India; more will follow. The
consequences for regional economic and political stability will
This set of regional challenges becomes a fast-
approaching global crisis, when placed against future needs
for water. As the world economy expands, demand for water
will rise and continue to outpace population growth. Unlike
energy, water has no substitutes or alternatives. We simply
cannot manage water in the future as we have in the past or
the economic web will collapse.
If we are to ensure sustained economic growth, human
security and political stability over the next two decades, how
we manage water is fast becoming an urgent political issue.
While businesses and nongovernmental organizations do
what they can, water has potent social, cultural and religious
dimensions; it can never be viewed only as a pure economic
good. Water requires government engagement in its
management and reform.
The current context of a sharp economic downturn,
where national governments are playing an increased role in
economic management and where businesses face
challenging times, offers some lessons and an opportunity on
how to address the water challenge. The financial crisis gives
us a stark warning of what can happen if known economic
risks are left to fester. It shows us that, in today’s world
system, wide collaboration, although difficult, is the only
effective way to address a systemic crisis. 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. While some trade-offs will be inevitable, all can
tangibly benefit from improvements in how water is managed.
Water_Initiative_Future_Water_Needs.pdf (with adaptations).