Sustainable Water Governance in Focus

With the explosive growth of the world’s population and the continuous expansion of the world’s economy, we also consume and pollute ever greater amounts of water.

One hundred years ago, there were 2 billion people on Earth, today we are 7.4. By the middle of this century, there will be 9.6 billion people on the Earth.

Demand for water is expected to grow even more dynamically over the next 35 years, up to an estimated 55%, as the proportions of middle-class people will increase within the total population, and higher standards of life also mean higher water consumption.

Freshwater is distributed unevenly in the world. There are already some regions that are at particularly high risk. At present, 1.7 billion people live in areas where water consumption is double the natural replenishment of resources, which means that local sources will run dry sooner or later. Within 10 years, the number of people suffering water shortages through a part of the year will increase to 4 billion.

With the already evident changes in climate, extreme weather conditions occur more often. Droughts and floods are becoming more frequent, what’s more, they often happen at the same time, at distances of only a few hundred kilometres.

We must change the way we manage water. Sustainable water governance takes the entire hydrological cycle into account, from human demand through the needs of various branches of the economy, the water needs of nature, the human rights of present and future generations, and makes the required decisions on that basis. It builds water management on a foundation of long-term cooperation between users within individual countries or, in the case of divided catchment areas, in larger regions as well. Sustainable water governance is an indispensable basis for the long-term survival of communities. It impacts industrial development, the fundamental issues of food production, energy production, the utilisation of mineral resource, the planning and operation of cities and towns, the condition of public health services, the provision of a life-sustaining environment and, as a joint effect of all that, the eradication of deep poverty.

Sustainable water governance may involve different tasks in various places of the world. While in a crowded city, the emphasis may fall on the purification and recycling of water used, in areas of arable land with rare rain, more efficient irrigation systems may be the order of the day, while areas at the risk of flooding may require augmenting the reservoir capacity of the natural environment and making provisions for using the water thus retained at a later time.

The necessity of a paradigm shift in water management has already appeared at the strategic level. In 2015, world leaders adopted the development targets for the next decade and the half: they are the sustainable development goals, including no. 6, which features the components of sustainable water management. The time for action has come. The Budapest World Water Summit aims to promote their realization.