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Future of Water 2021

World Water Day: Understanding the value of water

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Without a comprehensive understanding of water’s true, multidimensional value, we will be unable to safeguard this critical resource for the benefit of everyone.

Economic development and a growing global population mean agriculture and industry are getting thirstier and the water-intensive energy generation is rising to meet demand.

How we value water determines how water is managed and shared. The value of water is about much more than its price – water has enormous and complex value for our households, culture, health, education, economics and the integrity of our natural environment.

If we overlook any of these values, we risk mismanaging this finite, irreplaceable resource.

Valuing water sources – natural water resources and ecosystems

All water is generated by ecosystems. All the water we abstract for human use eventually returns to the environment, along with any contaminants we have added.

The water cycle is our most important ‘ecosystem service’. Higher value must be given to protecting the environment to ensure a good quality water supply and build resilience to shocks, such as flood and drought.

Valuing water infrastructure – storage, treatment and supply

Water infrastructure stores and moves water to where it is most needed, as well as helps clean and return it to nature after human use. Where this infrastructure is inadequate, socio-economic development is undermined and ecosystems endangered.

Typical valuations of water infrastructure tend to underestimate or not include costs, particularly social and environmental costs. It is difficult to recover all costs from tariffs (known as full cost recovery).

How we value water determines how water is managed and shared. The value of water is about much more than its price.

Valuing water services – drinking water, sanitation and health services

The role of water in households, schools, workplaces and health care facilities is critical. Furthermore, WASH – water, sanitation and hygiene services – also adds value in the form of greater health, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Valuing water as an input to production and socio-economic activity

Agriculture places the biggest demand on global freshwater resources and is a major contributor to environmental degradation.

Despite being fundamental to food security, water in food production is generally given a low value when assessed purely through the economic lens of value produced in relation to water used.

Many of the wider benefits – improving nutrition, generating income, adapting to climate change and reducing migration – are often not reflected in the cost of water.

Valuing socio-cultural aspects of water – recreational, cultural and spiritual attributes

Water can connect us with notions of creation, religion and community. Water in natural spaces can help us feel at peace and is an intrinsic part of every culture. However, the values we attribute to these functions are difficult to quantify or articulate.

There is a need to fully understand cultural values around water by involving a more diverse group of stakeholders in water resources management.

World Water Day is on 22nd March and is an annual United Nations Observance focusing on the importance of freshwater, coordinated by UN-Water.

World Water Day celebrates water and raises awareness of the 2.2 billion people living without access to safe water. It is about taking action to tackle the global water crisis.

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This content was compiled by Mediaplanet with material from 

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