World Freshwater Problems - Call for a new realism


by M. Falkenmark, Natural Science Research Council, and J. Lundqvist, Linköping University, Sweden

This report aim at spelling out the rationale for the Comprehensive Freshwater Assessment. Starting from an overview based on global data available in 1994 in UNESCO's International Hydrological Programme, an analysis and diagnosis is made of the present water resources predicament, demonstrating i.a. that water-related problems tend to appear in clusters.

A distinction is made between negotiable and non-negotiable dimensions in resource management. Non-negotiable refers to hydroclimatic and physical/geographical contexts and negotiable to human adaptation and ingenuity. Management perspectives are discussed, such as, the potential of demand management, development options under water scarcity conditions, and the past neglect of social capability problems. In addition to shortcomings in institutional arrangements and human skills and knowledge, more profound problems seem to contribute to mismanagement, such as poor understanding of water cycle integrity, and water-blind perceptions.

Potential responses are discussed, addressing in particular four key dilemmas: the fact that water scarce regions will be unable to achieve food self-sufficiency; the decreasing useability of polluted water; the upstream/downstream competition for the water passing down the river, and the growing competition between urban and rural users. Potential conflicts in relation to water are also addressed. The report calls for a new water resources stewardship, acknowledging non-negotiable environmental preconditions.

Finally, examples are given of long-term tasks and imperative actions, what needs to be done on international, national, and municipal levels, as well as by private and public NGO's and water user associations.