Water security has emerged in the 21st century as a powerful construct to frame the water objectives and goals of human society and to support and guide local to global water policy and management. Water security can be described as the fundamental societal goal of water policy and management. This article reviews the concept of water security, explaining the differences between water security and other approaches used to conceptualize the water-related challenges facing society and ecosystems and describing some of the actions needed to achieve water security. Achieving water security requires addressing two fundamental challenges at all scales: enhancing water’s productive contributions to human and ecosystems’ well-being, livelihoods and development, and minimizing water’s destructive impacts on societies, economies, and ecosystems resulting, for example, from too much (flood), too little (drought) or poor quality (polluted) water.
Claudia Sadoff, David Grey, and Edoardo Borgomeo
Mohamed Ait-Kadi and Melvyn Kay
This is an immersive journey through different water management concepts. The conceptual attractiveness of concepts is not enough; they must be applicable in the real and fast-changing world. Thus, beyond the concepts, our long-standing challenge remains increasing water security. This is about stewardship of water resources for the greatest good of societies and the environment. It is a public responsibility requiring dynamic, adaptable, participatory, and balanced planning. It is all about coordination and sharing. Multi-sectoral approaches are needed to adequately address the threats and opportunities relating to water resources management in the context of climate change, rapid urbanization, and growing disparities. The processes involved are many and need consistency and long-term commitment to succeed. Climate change is closely related to the problems of water security, food security, energy security and environment sustainability. These interconnections are often ignored when policy-makers devise partial responses to individual problems. They call for broader public policy planning tools with the capacity to encourage legitimate public/collective clarification of the trade-offs and the assessment of the potential of multiple uses of water to facilitate development and growth. We need to avoid mental silos and to overcome the current piecemeal approach to solving the water problems. This requires a major shift in practice for organizations (governmental as well as donor organizations) accustomed to segregating water problems by subsectors. Our experience with integration tells us that (1) we need to invest in understanding the political economy of different sectors; (2) we need new institutional arrangements that function within increasing complexity, cutting across sectoral silos and sovereign boundaries; (3) top down approaches for resources management will not succeed without bottom-up efforts to help people improve their livelihoods and their capacity to adapt to increasing resource scarcity as well as to reduce unsustainable modes of production. Political will, as well as political skill, need visionary and strong leadership to bring opposing interests into balance to inform policy- making with scientific understanding, and to negotiate decisions that are socially accepted. Managing water effectively across a vast set of concerns requires equally vast coordination. Strong partnerships and knowledge creation and sharing are essential. Human civilization – we know- is a response to challenge. Certainly, water scarcity can be a source of conflict among competing users, particularly when combined with other factors of political or cultural tension. But it can also be an inducement to cooperation even in high tension areas. We believe that human civilization can find itself the resources to respond successfully to the many water challenges, and in the process make water a learning ground for building the expanded sense of community and sharing necessary to an increasingly interconnected world.
The emergence of environment as a security imperative is something that could have been avoided. Early indications showed that if governments did not pay attention to critical environmental issues, these would move up the security agenda. As far back as the Club of Rome 1972 report, Limits to Growth, variables highlighted for policy makers included world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion, all of which impact how we live on this planet. The term environmental security didn’t come into general use until the 2000s. It had its first substantive framing in 1977, with the Lester Brown Worldwatch Paper 14, “Redefining Security.” Brown argued that the traditional view of national security was based on the “assumption that the principal threat to security comes from other nations.” He went on to argue that future security “may now arise less from the relationship of nation to nation and more from the relationship between man to nature.” Of the major documents to come out of the Earth Summit in 1992, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development is probably the first time governments have tried to frame environmental security. Principle 2 says: “States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national.” In 1994, the UN Development Program defined Human Security into distinct categories, including: • Economic security (assured and adequate basic incomes). • Food security (physical and affordable access to food). • Health security. • Environmental security (access to safe water, clean air and non-degraded land). By the time of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in 2002, water had begun to be identified as a security issue, first at the Rio+5 conference, and as a food security issue at the 1996 FAO Summit. In 2003, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan set up a High-Level Panel on “Threats, Challenges, and Change,” to help the UN prevent and remove threats to peace. It started to lay down new concepts on collective security, identifying six clusters for member states to consider. These included economic and social threats, such as poverty, infectious disease, and environmental degradation. By 2007, health was being recognized as a part of the environmental security discourse, with World Health Day celebrating “International Health Security (IHS).” In particular, it looked at emerging diseases, economic stability, international crises, humanitarian emergencies, and chemical, radioactive, and biological terror threats. Environmental and climate changes have a growing impact on health. The 2007 Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified climate security as a key challenge for the 21st century. This was followed up in 2009 by the UCL-Lancet Commission on Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change—linking health and climate change. In the run-up to Rio+20 and the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, the issue of the climate-food-water-energy nexus, or rather, inter-linkages, between these issues was highlighted. The dialogue on environmental security has moved from a fringe discussion to being central to our political discourse—this is because of the lack of implementation of previous international agreements.
The lack of a settled definition for hydropolitics—a prismatic concept that acquires specific meanings according to both the disciplinary boundaries within which it is used and the theoretical perspectives of those employing it—is consistent with the disagreement over its nomenclature (hydro-politics vs. hydropolitics). The term has had many meanings and idiosyncratic usages over time, and there has been hardly any attempt to advance a clear definition for it. The strength of the concept of hydropolitics, its inter-disciplinary conceptual heterogeneity, is also its weakness. While the crystallization of some of the core features of hydropolitics in the literature—especially with regard to scale (namely, the focus on the inter-state level and the range of issues covered, that is, the politics of international water basins)—has anchored hydropolitics to “standard cases” of the concept, its theoretical underpinnings are still blurred. The study of hydropolitics has substantially delved into trans-boundary, not just any, waters. Yet, both the ontology and epistemology of the concept are debatable, so few eclectic definitions for hydropolitics have emerged. Hence, by addressing the relationships between knowledge, theory, and action of hydropolitics, the scientific community, in particular scholars of international relations, political geography, and critical geopolitics, has struggled for theoretical coherence as well as for conceptual clarity over the use of the term. This is not an easy task, though, because the fluid essence of hydropolitics escapes not only definition but also easy classification.
In an era of calamitous climate change, entrenched malnutrition, and the chronic exclusion of hundreds of millions of people from access to affordable energy, food, and water, evaluating the policy options of African states to address these challenges matters more than ever. In the Nile Basin especially, a region notorious for its poverty, violent instability and lack of industrialisation, states have invested their scarce resources and political capital in a “hydraulic mission” in the belief that they can engineer their way out of international marginalization. Incumbents have bet on large-scale hydro-infrastructure and capital-intensive agriculture to boost food production, strengthen energy security, and deal with water scarcity, despite the woeful track-record of such a supply-side approach to development. While ruling elites in the Nile Basin have portrayed the hydraulic mission as the natural way of developing the region’s resources—supposedly validated by the historical achievements of Pharaonic civilization and its mastery over its tough environment—this is a modern fiction, spun to justify politically expedient projects and the exclusion of broad layers of the population. In the last two hundred years, the hydraulic mission has made three major political contributions that underline its strategic usefulness to centralizing elites: it has enabled the building of modern states and a growing bureaucratic apparatus around a riverain political economy; it has generated new national narratives that have allowed unpopular regimes to rebrand themselves as protectors of the nation; and it has facilitated the forging of external alliances, linking the resources and elites of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan to global markets and centers of influence. Mega-dams, huge canals and irrigation for export are fundamentally about power and the powerful—and the privileging of some interests and social formations over others. The one-sided focus on increasing supply—based on the false premise that this will allow ordinary people to access more food and water—transfers control over livelihoods from one (broad) group of people to (a much narrower) other one by legitimizing top-down interventionism and dislocation. What presents itself as a strategy of water resources and agricultural development is really about (re)constructing hierarchies between people. The mirage of supply-side development continues to seduce elites at the helm of the state because it keeps them in power and others out of it.
Elisabet Lindgren and Thomas Elmqvist
Ecosystem services refer to benefits for human societies and well-being obtained from ecosystems. Research on health effects of ecosystem services have until recently mostly focused on beneficial effects on physical and mental health from spending time in nature or having access to urban green space. However, nearly all of the different ecosystem services may have impacts on health, either directly or indirectly. Ecosystem services can be divided into provisioning services that provide food and water; regulating services that provide, for example, clean air, moderate extreme events, and regulate the local climate; supporting services that help maintain biodiversity and infectious disease control; and cultural services. With a rapidly growing global population, the demand for food and water will increase. Knowledge about ecosystems will provide opportunities for sustainable agriculture production in both terrestrial and marine environments. Diarrheal diseases and associated childhood deaths are strongly linked to poor water quality, sanitation, and hygiene. Even though improvements are being made, nearly 750 million people still lack access to reliable water sources. Ecosystems such as forests, wetlands, and lakes capture, filter, and store water used for drinking, irrigation, and other human purposes. Wetlands also store and treat solid waste and wastewater, and such ecosystem services could become of increasing use for sustainable development. Ecosystems contribute to local climate regulation and are of importance for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Coastal ecosystems, such as mangrove and coral reefs, act as natural barriers against storm surges and flooding. Flooding is associated with increased risk of deaths, epidemic outbreaks, and negative health impacts from destroyed infrastructure. Vegetation reduces the risk of flooding, also in cities, by increasing permeability and reducing surface runoff following precipitation events. The urban heat island effect will increase city-center temperatures during heatwaves. The elderly, people with chronic cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and outdoor workers in cities where temperatures soar during heatwaves are in particular vulnerable to heat. Vegetation and especially trees help in different ways to reduce temperatures by shading and evapotranspiration. Air pollution increases the mortality and morbidity risks during heatwaves. Vegetation has been shown also to contribute to improved air quality by, depending on plant species, filtering out gases and airborne particulates. Greenery also has a noise-reducing effect, thereby decreasing noise-related illnesses and annoyances. Biological control uses the knowledge of ecosystems and biodiversity to help control human and animal diseases. Natural surroundings and urban parks and gardens have direct beneficial effects on people’s physical and mental health and well-being. Increased physical activities have well-known health benefits. Spending time in natural environments has also been linked to aesthetic benefits, life enrichments, social cohesion, and spiritual experience. Even living close to or with a view of nature has been shown to reduce stress and increase a sense of well-being.