Water emergency

Water security is essential for the development and enjoyment of human rights. Together with energy, water is an asset that must be guaranteed.

by Loïc Fauchon
20 April 2020
8 min read
by Loïc Fauchon
20 April 2020
8 min read

This article is taken from World Energy (WE) number 46 – Water stories

The world is thirsty. Energy and water are becoming increasingly scarce or erratic resources. People are facing growing threats to their health, as well as vital food supplies. Billions of people all over the world are suffering the accumulated effects of many crises. As demographic growth and urbanization reach unprecedented levels, as news spread ever faster, and people's hopes for a better quality of life are raised, this suffering is becoming more intense and more brutal. And at the same time, there is a a new consciousness about the necessary environmental approach. Peace and dignity, and a fairer world, in the long term, depend on two elements: access to development opportunities and the need to protect the natural world. To develop and protect nature, we need to act with mutual respect and find a sustainable balance between the use of our increasingly-coveted natural resources, and the need to protect them.
Water is one of these resources. And it has become a rare commodity, in terms of both quantity and quality. Due to our careless domestic, industrial and agricultural uses of water, resources in our rivers, boreholes, water tables, dams and reservoirs are under pressure and  rapidly being depleted. As the demand for water increases, supply is stagnating.
At global and local scale, our lives depend on the availability of water. If we fail to manage its availability, we condemn entire populations to being excluded from development and equitable enjoyment of fundamental human rights. Collectively and individually, this is our responsibility, or rather, these are our responsibilities. 

We must ensure water security for us all

To secure water use, we first need to secure the availability and protection of the resource itself. We have to find the right approach between “Water Now and Water in the Future”. That means a balance between the demand for water and the restrictions that come with water stress. 

Securing resources means finding the additional water resources needed to meet demand and respect the balance. To achieve all this, we can rely on human ingenuity and the ability to constantly innovate and come up with new solutions. This begins with technical solutions. In the future, we will need to drill for water more deeply, transport it over longer distances, store it for longer and purify it more efficiently. We will develop new, cheaper and more advanced solutions, such as the wider use of desalination and wastewater reuse. Energy and digital innovation will be key for water security. The great cycle of water supply and waste water treatment is fully concerned. For example, digital technologies range from, sensors, remote controls, weather forecasts, data processing, augmenter reality, process optimization. And all kinds of mobile applications. Let us use the best of wireless networks, data processing, internet of things, cloud, blockchain, for water but also for sanitation, waste, air and energy.  The digital revolution will bring citizens closer from the decisions and will reinforce the feeling of a more local and more participative democracy.
But we need to be careful and never forget to put the people “in the loop”.  Technological innovation will give us a fantastic source of freshwater for agricultural and industrial use. Technological advances will enable us to speed up the roll-out of new, smarter, more efficient, more environment-friendly, more sustainable, and fairer solutions. But apart from human technology, there is also the need, indeed the obligation, to take political action. Water is not one Sustainable Development Goal among 17 others. Global water security has now become an integral part of every country's national security and foreign policy. 

The three pillars of water resource management

We can think of water management as a house supported by three pillars: governance, finance and knowledge. These three pillars need to be well built to ensure that every drop of water is useful. To improve efficiency, we now need to go beyond the concept of integrated water resource management, which is a vertical approach to the short water cycle. It needs to be combined with a horizontal approach, based on the fundamental links between water, energy, food, health and education, by applying the “Five Fingers Alliance” concept. This is a new approach, one which finally enables, at national and local level, development policies to be implemented without segmentation or isolation, and without opposing each of the five “Fingers” against the others, seeing them as interrelated, rather than conflicting. Thus, expanding a city, or building a school, must answer to each of these five basic factors simultaneously, rather than focusing on one to the detriment of the others. The right to water, so easily proclaimed yet so difficult to enforce, will be the common thread running through collective action and policy on water security. 

Water and energy, rights and interdependence

The right to water and the right to energy need a common approach as the days of easy water and easy electricity are gone. Today, nobody questions the fact that water along with energy are essential to human, economic and social development. Water and energy are indispensable to fulfill the basic needs of mankind: health, food and education. There is also a strong interdependence between water and energy: water is key for clean energy production and energy is  essential for water supply. When the cost of energy is too high, the cost of water is unaffordable. To implement the access to water for all, it is indispensable to consider at the time energy and water management. The World Water Council advocates for 5 five recommendations to promote a common approcah for water and energy:

  1. Access to energy and access to water  should be given the same importance and  implemented together at international, national and local levels.
  2. Financing of water and energy, together as a whole, should be considered as one main priority for sustainable and equitable development for Humans and Nature.
  3. Urban and rural planning should include water and energy together as a whole, in the same scope.
  4. Electricity and water resources should both be approached as renewable energies. Water recycling and re-use should be a legal obligation.
  5. Combined governance of water and energy should be promoted at all levels in order to give consistence and priority to affordable and sustainable supplies.

We are on the road to the 9th World Water Forum which will be held in march 2021 in Dakar, co-organized by the World Water Council and the State of Senegal. Let seize this  opportunity to work together. I invite the large community of Energy to join the community of Water to bring joint solutions and give answers and responses to the world, as populations need our joint commitment to improve the planet. It is an emergency.


The author: Loïc Fauchon

Loïc Fauchon is President of the World Water Council since 2018 after having previously served two mandates from 2005 to 2012. From 1991 to 2019, he was successively General Director, Chief Executive Officer and President of the Water Supply Company of Marseille (SEM). He was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 2003.

The artist: Aïda Muluneh

Aïda Muluneh  is a contemporary Ethiopian photographer and artist, Muluneh’s photographs have been published in numerous international magazines and exhibited in major museums around the world. She founded the Addis Foto Fest, the only international photography festival in East Africa. As one of the leading experts on photography from Africa, Aïda has been a jury member on several international photography competitions.