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Experts warn that humans take water for granted

Researchers from Oxford University are emphasizing that the value of water cannot be measured. The team has developed a new framework to value water for the Sustainable Development Goals, which they have published in the journal Science. Their report highlights the increasing need for water management both locally and globally, and proposes a plan for better policy and practices.

The urgent need to re-evaluate the importance of water is due to a number of reasons.

The study authors write, “Water is not just about sustaining life, it plays a vital role in sustainable development. Water’s value is evident in all of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, from poverty alleviation and ending hunger, where the connection is long recognised – to sustainable cities and peace and justice, where the complex impacts of water are only now being fully appreciated.”

The researchers also point out that water security is now a global concern that is growing more serious.

They explain, “The negative impacts of water shortages, flooding and pollution have placed water related risks among the top 5 global threats by the World Economic Forum for several years running. In 2015, Oxford-led research on water security quantified expected losses from water shortages, inadequate water supply and sanitation and flooding at approximately $500B USD annually.”

According to the World Bank, “the cost of a drought in cities is four times greater than a flood, and a single drought in rural Africa can ignite a chain of deprivation and poverty across generations.”

The UN High Level Panel on Water has launched a new strategy on “Valuing Water,” and the growing consensus is that the profit of water is beyond monetary value. With this in mind, governments need to look at valuing water as a challenge that requires investment in better policies going forward.

The study authors suggest that water management must be focused on four priorities: measurement, valuation, trade-offs, and capable institutions for allocating and financing water. Dustin Garrick is the lead author of the study.

“Our paper responds to a global call to action: the cascading negative impacts of scarcity, shocks and inadequate water services underscore the need to value water better,” says Garrick. “There may not be any silver bullets, but there are clear steps to take. We argue that valuing water is fundamentally about navigating trade-offs. The objective of our research is to show why we need to rethink the value of water, and how to go about it, by leveraging technology, science and incentives to punch through stubborn governance barriers. Valuing water requires that we value institutions.”

Study co-author Richard Damania explains,”Current water management policies are outdated and unsuited to addressing the water related challenges of the 21st century. Without policies to allocate finite supplies of water more efficiently, control the burgeoning demand for water and reduce wastage, water stress will intensify where water is already scarce and spread to regions of the world – with impacts on economic growth and the development of water-stressed nations.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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