Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Water scarcity, water stress and the international decade for action "water for life" 2005 - 2015

The most popular measurement to examine water stress is the so called Falkenmark Water Stress indicator. According to this indicator, an area is experiencing water stress when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 m3 per person. When annual water supplies drop below 1,000 m3 per person, the population faces water scarcity, and below 500 cubic metres "absolute scarcity".(1)

This indicator further developed the index created by Gleick in 1996 which analysed the water requirements for basic human needs: drinking water for survival, water for human hygiene, water for sanitation services, and modest household needs for preparing food. The proposed minimum amount needed to sustain each is as follows: 

1. Minimum Drinking Water Requirement: Data from the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences was used to estimate the minimum drinking water requirement for human survival under typical temperate climates with normal activity is about 5 liters per person per day. 
2. Basic Requirements for Sanitation: Taking into account various technologies for sanitation worldwide, the effective disposal of human wastes can be accomplished with little to no water if necessary. However, to account for the maximum benefits of combining waste disposal and related hygiene as well as to allow for cultural and societal preferences, a minimum of 20 liters per person per day is recommended.
 3. Basic Water Requirements for Bathing: Studies have suggested that the minimum amount of water needed for adequate bathing is 15 liters per person per day (Kalbermatten et al., 1982; Gleick 1993).
 4. Basic Requirement for Food Preparation: Taking into consideration both developed and underdeveloped countries, the water use for food preparation to satisfy most regional standards and to meet basic needs is 10 liters per person per day. 

Water stress causes deterioration of fresh water resources in terms of quantity (aquifer over-exploitation, dry rivers, etc.) and quality (eutrophication, organic matter pollution, saline intrusion, etc.). Water scarcity already affects every continent. Around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world's population, live in areas of physical scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation. Another 1.6 billion people, or almost one quarter of the world's population, face economic water shortage (where countries lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers).(2)

International organizations and water providers are recommended to adopt this overall basic water requirement as a new threshold for meeting these basic needs independent of climate, technology, and culture (P. H. Gleick 1996). Both Falkenmark and Gleick developed the “benchmark indicator” of 1,000m 3 per capita per year as a standard that has been accepted by the World Bank (Gleick 1995; Falkenmark and Widstrand 1992). 2.3. The Social Water Stress Index building on the Falkenmark indicator, Ohlsson (2000) integrated the “adaptive capacity” of a society to consider how economic, technological, or other means affect the overall freshwater availability status of a region. Ohlsson argued that the capability of a society to adapt to difficult scenarios is a function of the distribution of wealth, education opportunities, and political participation. 
The UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) is a widely accepted indicator used to assess these societal variables. The HDI functions as a weighted measure of the Falkenmark indicator in order to account for the ability to adapt to water stress and is termed the Social Water Stress Index.

The world is waking up to the water and sanitation crisis. At the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000, the largest-ever gathering of world leaders adopted the Millennium Declaration; from the Declaration emerged the Millennium Development Goals, an integrated set of time-bound targets for extending the benefits of globalization to the world's poorest citizens. Among them was target 10, to cut in half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water. At the Johannesburg World Summit for Sustainable Development, in 2002, this target was expanded to include basic sanitation, and water as a resource was recognized as a critical factor for meeting all the Goals. This sanitation objective is now an integral part of target 10. Since Johannesburg, further international deliberations on water and sanitation have helped advance cooperation and action in this area. Significant progress has been made since then in providing people with access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation. But a major effort is still required to extend these essential services to those still , the vast majority of whom are poor people. 
Given the magnitude of the task, in December 2003, the United Nations General Assembly, in resolution A/RES/58/217, proclaimed the period 2005-2015 International Decade for Action 'Water for Life'. The decade officially started on World Water Day, March 22, 2005.

WHAT is the purpose of the International Decade for Action 'Water for Life' 2005-2015? 

The primary goal of the 'Water for Life' Decade is to promote efforts to fulfil international commitments made on water and water-related issues by 2015. Focus is on furthering cooperation at all levels, so that the water-related goals of the Millennium Declaration, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation of the World Summit for Sustainable Development, and Agenda 21 can be achieved. The challenge of the Decade is to focus attention on action-oriented activities and policies that ensure the long-term sustainable management of water resources, in terms of both quantity and quality, and include measures to improve sanitation. Achieving the goals of the 'Water for Life' Decade requires sustained commitment, cooperation and investment on the part of all stakeholders from 2005 to 2015 and far beyond.

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(1) www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/scarcity.shtml
(2) http://www.sustainabilityconsortium.org/wp-content/themes/sustainability/assets/pdf/whitepapers/2011_Brown_Matlock_Water-Availability-Assessment-Indices-and-Methodologies-Lit-Review.pdf