What is relevant for water pollution

International water policy

Axel Klaphake

To person

Dr.-Ing., Born in 1966; Studied economics and political science in Cologne and Clermont-Ferrand; Scientific assistant in the field of environmental planning and management at the TU Berlin.

Address: TU-Berlin, Secretary FR 2-7, Franklinstrasse 28/29, 10587 Berlin.
e-mail: [email protected]

Publications including: (Ed. Together with V. Hartje) The role of the European Union in environmental planning, Marburg 1998; (together with W. Scheumann and R. Schliep) Biodiversity and international water policy. Agreements and experiences related to the protection of freshwater ecosystems, Research Report, BMU, Berlin 2001.

Waltina Scheumann

To person

Dr.-Ing., Study of political science; Scientific assistant in the field of environmental planning and management at the TU Berlin.

Address: TU-Berlin, Secretary FR 2-7, Franklinstr. 28/29, 10587 Berlin.
e-mail: [email protected]

Publications including: Managing salinization. Institutional analysis of public irrigation systems, 1997; (together with M. Schiffler) Water in the Middle East: Potential for conflicts and prospects for cooperation, 1998; (together with A. Klaphake) Freshwater resources and transboundary rivers on the international agenda: from UNCED to RIO + 10, report on behalf of BMZ 2001.

Ten years after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (1992) something has changed: the issue of freshwater has gained a place on the international political agenda.

I. The global water crisis and its political perception

Almost ten years after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro 1992), another environmental medium has taken a place on the international political agenda: the scarcity and pollution of global freshwater resources. This article discusses the dimensions of the global water crisis and examines which political responses have been formulated at the international level.

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  • 1. Water is getting scarce!



    It is banal to emphasize that an adequate water supply is one of the elementary human needs. Everyone uses several thousand liters of fresh water every day, directly (drinking water) and indirectly (food, industrial products).


    The WHO assumes a daily minimum requirement of 100 liters per capita for drinking water. While the directly consumed amount of drinking water is relatively small, food production goes into considerably more: the irrigation of one hectare of land in arid regions requires around 10,000 cubic meters per year. In addition, there is an average water consumption for industrial products of 40 cubic meters per capita per year. The proportions of the dominant forms of use in industrial and developing countries are very different:

    - The Agriculture is the largest water user with 69 percent. In countries with a high proportion of irrigated agriculture (including China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, the North African countries), the proportion of agricultural extraction is over 80 percent.

    - The industrial extraction the global average is 23 percent. However, this varies greatly between industrialized (60 to 80 percent) and developing countries (10 to 30 percent). A large proportion is accounted for by electricity production, base metals, chemical industries, petroleum refineries, etc.

    - The removal for the supply of the households is eight percent; this proportion is likely to increase as many households in rural areas in developing countries are underserved. Supply is also critical in megacities with their rapidly growing populations. 1.3 billion people have no access to adequate and clean water, 1.7 billion have to get by without sanitary facilities.

    - While approximate extraction information can be given for the traditional sectors, this is for the conservation of Ecosystems as a habitat for plants and animals, but also for their function as natural "production sites" (fish deposits), for their recreational value and the preservation of the self-cleaning power of waters.

    Water is considered a scarce commodity when problems arise in meeting water needs. However, it is difficult to define water scarcity precisely because it is a relative concept that is related to social and economic conditions. We can only speak of an absolute lack of water if there is too little water available to meet even the most minimal needs (drinking water, hygiene). However, this situation does not exist even in arid regions. [1]

    Common indicators of water scarcity developed from the hydrological side are either based on the relationship between population and available water quantities (demographic dimension) [2], or they relate the amount of water used to the total - but not necessarily available - water quantity (technical dimension). The following rule of thumb applies to the demographic dimension:

    - If a country has more than 1,700 cubic meters per capita per year, scarcity is rare and tends to be local;

    - below 1 000 cubic meters / person / year a critical limit is reached, above which health conditions and economic development are impaired;

    - Below 500 cubic meters per capita and year, water scarcity reaches a life-threatening level.

    The latter is already the case in 15 countries (see table); twelve countries have between 500 and 1,000, and 22 countries have between 1,000 and 2,000 cubic meters per capita per year. The UN Commission for Sustainable Development (UN-CSD) interprets water scarcity in its technical dimension: Countries are affected by medium to high water stress if the amount withdrawn annually exceeds 20 percent of the total renewable freshwater supply. A clearly high water stress is assumed for over 40 percent. According to this, around a third of the population currently lives in countries that are affected by medium to high or clearly high water stress. [3]

    These assessments give a rough picture of the global water crisis; however, they are controversial as they treat water scarcity as a priority problem of supply. Based on the methodological approach of the UN-CSD, attempts were therefore made to determine water scarcity using demand forecasts and to classify countries accordingly. [4] These results are also alarming: in 2025 17 countries (including in the Middle East and southern Africa), in which 1.8 billion people will then live, will be affected by severe (here called: absolute) water scarcity, as they are their current ones Cannot maintain per capita consumption. Another 24 countries, mainly in the sub-Saharan region, will suffer from an economic water crisis in 2025 because they do not have the financial resources to develop sufficient water resources.

    The classification of entire countries as water scarce is methodologically not completely convincing, since water scarcity is a phenomenon that has to be considered extremely differentiated from one region to another. Even in countries that, according to common indicators, suffer from water stress, there are regions in which this does not apply. Other water-rich countries such as Brazil know regions with severe water scarcity. Despite this necessary restriction, all indicators - always assuming that no countermeasures are taken - point to a significant increase in the proportion of the world population affected by water stress.

    Surface and groundwater pollution is the second key feature of the water crisis. Pollutants and nutrient salts impair the use of inland waters. Experts consider the overexploitation and pollution of groundwater resources in many parts of the world to be a key problem for future water supplies, especially in arid regions. According to estimates, there are currently only about five percent of the wastewater is treated, although there are still considerable deficits in OECD countries. In addition, all indicators suggest that the biological diversity of the world's freshwater ecosystems is decreasing, with negative consequences for the natural balance and the management methods that depend on it. Ultimately, global climate change is expected to increase floods and droughts, which will particularly affect the countries of the south.

    2. First global action programs: disillusionment and rethinking



    As a starting point for global water policy, the Mar del Plata World Conference on Water Resources of the UN in 1977. There, the inadequate water supply was primarily addressed as a restriction on social and economic development on a global scale. The conference decided to focus on the eighties International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade during which the level of coverage should be increased to 100 percent. However, the result of the efforts was sobering: [5] By 1990, due to a remarkable mobilization of international and national investment funds, the proportion of the population with access to clean drinking water in developing countries had increased to around 70 percent. The absolute number of people without adequate water supply could only be reduced slightly due to opposing trends (e.g. population growth, urbanization) and that without sanitary facilities could not be reduced at all. But even this moderate progress was marked by a clear social imbalance: Many measures did not reach the poorer sections of the population, but to a far greater extent middle and higher income groups, preferably in the cities. The failure of the water decade, however, accelerated a rethinking:

    1. At the international level, the farewell to the engineering-oriented policy approach, which is primarily focused on expanding the water supply, has been initiated. Pointed: The water decade was still shaped by the idea that water shortages could primarily be overcome by the cost-intensive expansion of the technical capacities of water supply and disposal, which are operated by public water authorities and financed with the help of state subsidies. In doing so, however, water use was hardly taken into account, the water prices in many countries were far below the operating and maintenance costs of the plants, while environmental impacts or socio-economic consequences played a subordinate role. At the end of the 1980s, alarming findings about expected regional water shortages were also published. [6] In connection with the fact that additional drinking water resources can only be developed with significantly increased capital expenditure, it became clear that a massive expansion of supply is no longer a realistic policy option. This inevitably raised the issue of water use and its administrative and economic control (demand management) in the foreground.

    2. The discussion of the model of the Sustainable development as a result of the Brundlandt Report published in 1987 [7] has illustrated that the problems of water supply can only be addressed with a comprehensive view. While the classic topic of international water policy - promoting water supply and sanitation as a sub-area of ​​public health care - dominated the programs and measures up until then, the economic, social and ecological interrelationships were now increasingly addressed. The connection between the water crisis and other global environmental problems (including desertification, climate change, loss of biodiversity) was now given a higher priority. [8th]

    3. The changes in the development policy framework after the end of the Cold War accelerated a general reorientation on the part of international donors, the focus of which was on the insight that economic development and the sustainable use of natural resources can only be achieved if appropriate institutional and administrative conditions are in place in the countries concerned. The key words here are: good governance (good governance), administrative decentralization, institutional change, participation of social groups and private actors in decision-making processes.

    These complementary and sometimes overlapping trends have led to the development of a new consensus on water policy in recent years. The water crisis is therefore not primarily defined hydrologically, but is primarily a management problem in the countries concerned, whose problem-solving potential and capacity to act are insufficient to adapt consumption patterns to the scarcity. In this sense, countries instruct social ingenuity gap (Lack of social ingenuity and innovation), but not absolute water poverty. The crisis is triggered by weak institutions, fragmented and ineffective policy approaches, and the dominance of sector-specific programs without sufficient attention to long-term consequences. Adequate solutions can therefore only be found if there are rules for one at both international and national level good use of water, i.e. political, institutional and economic reforms.

    3. A new model as consensus in the negotiation system of the United Nations



    The challenges for such reforms lie on three levels:

    - The allocation problem consists in organizing an appropriate and accepted distribution of the withdrawn water between the competing sectors (households, agriculture, industry) in the event of growing demand and sometimes incompatible usage requirements.

    - The distribution of water quantities and pollutant discharges between the upper and lower reaches of the rivers requires appropriate distribution rules, which are of great political importance both within the countries and between neighboring states.

    - Furthermore, scarce water needs to be shared between social uses and the needs of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems; for the latter, ecologically appropriate minimum flow rates must remain in the rivers.

    Integrated water management, in which all water-relevant sectors are coordinated, is therefore of particular importance. Whole water catchment or river basins are recommended as an adequate spatial reference level - and here the current water policy discussion falls back on an older concept [9], since the decisive interdependencies occur within the river basins. In addition, land use in the entire water catchment area influences water availability and freshwater ecosystems. Such an integrated river basin management should be based on a coordinated and strategic approach to the specific conditions of the river basin, take into account the interactions between land and water use as well as ground and surface water and create a fair balance between the different usage requirements, taking into account the natural limits of availability.

    At the programmatic level, international water policy has recognized the need for integrated water management since the early 1990s. This swivel became clear when it came to assessing this as a milestone International Conference on Water and the Environment (Dublin 1992) and in the course of the deliberations on the water chapter of Agenda 21 (Rio de Janeiro 1992). Despite some controversies about cross-border waters, ecological aspects and water prices, this ultimately brought a breakthrough: an agreement was made on the basic principles of the global handling of freshwater resources. [10] The water chapter of Agenda 21 formulates goals and measures in seven program areas; Adequate national programs, institutional structures and legal provisions should be implemented by the year 2000, with the developing countries demanding additional financial aid as a prerequisite for corresponding reforms.

    The concept of integrated water management has since been confirmed and concretized at numerous international conferences and in various declarations, for example at the sixth meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-6) in 1998. There was consensus on key issues; however, a number of content-related points of conflict and the controversial financing aspect between the north and the south paralyzed further progress. In the meantime, however, one can see a programmatic continuity in international agreements, which - albeit often in rather non-binding terminology - also continues at conferences outside the UN negotiating system, most recently with the ministerial declaration of the Second World Water Forum (The Hague 2000). It can be assumed that the Rio + 10 conference to be held in Johannesburg next year will confirm the main features of this international consensus. [11]

    The implementation of integrated water management is primarily aimed at national governments and international organizations, but there are no binding agreements on concrete implementation obligations and robust control and financing mechanisms. In some cases, the states have entered into more specific commitments within the framework of other conventions (e.g. Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Biodiversity Convention), and the Global Environmental Facility is supported. [12]

    The model of integrated water management is the working basis of all UN organizations dealing with water issues (UNDP, UNEP, FAO, WHO, UNESCO etc.) whose activities from ACC[13]Subcommittee on Water Resources should be coordinated. The World Bank, which has often been criticized for its water policy in the past, has also made the programmatic shift towards integrated management approaches. [14] The main focuses of their programs today are: water and poverty reduction, institutional reforms, efficiency of water use, economic incentives, decentralization and participation, preservation of biological diversity. A number of other international actors, non-governmental organizations and expert networks also contribute to the dissemination of the model. [15]

    4. Increase in complexity



    However, the tasks of national water policy and international cooperation have not become any easier after the abandonment of the supply paradigm. In times when the development of new water resources was seen as the main challenge, technical, logistical and financial problems had to be resolved, which often appeared difficult, but generally manageable. In addition to these, other, administratively and politically much more complex tasks have to be dealt with when implementing integrated water management: Comprehensive information on the status of water bodies and water use is necessary; In open decision-making processes, priorities for water distribution as well as rules and instruments for this are to be developed demand management to implement that enable optimal water use.

    Necessary reforms have to be undertaken against the background of the often incompatible demands of the various sectors, e. B. of urban and rural regions. In practice, water authorities and other water-related administrations are often poorly equipped in terms of finance and personnel and are strongly geared to the interests of the ministries. In particular, the necessary coordination of land use and water management raises many questions in its implementation, and its necessity is not seen by all actors. After all, cross-border rivers cannot be managed in an integrated sense without the cooperation between neighboring countries.