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Global Water Crisis

Selected resources from the Carnegie Council

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs | September 27, 2010

CREDIT: Geof Wilson (CC).

"Conservative estimates hold that the lack of access to clean water causes the death of five million people worldwide every year," writes Patrik Stålgren of Göteborg University.

Water is essential not only to to personal health, but also to healthy economic, geopolitical, and environmental conditions around the world. Yet due to population growth, climate change, and mismanagement, the need for adequate, affordable drinking (and irrigation) water is a growing international crisis.

"Water problems will not go away by themselves," declares economist Jeffrey Sachs. "On the contrary, they will worsen unless we, as a global community, respond."

As part of its second annual SEPTEMBER SUSTAINABILITY MONTH, the Carnegie Council presents a collection of resources that address the following debates surrounding water rights:

  • Is water a basic human right? If so, then should it be made available to everybody regardless of where they live and their economic status?
  • Who should control water management systems? Should they be run by governments and thus theoretically by the public? Or can private ownership provide more efficient management?
  • Who should control bodies of water, such as rivers, that cross international boundaries? How do you prevent water wars?


Global Ethics Corner: Has Water Become a Right?
William C. Vocke Jr., Carnegie Council
Less than 1 percent of the Earth's water is consumable, and many parts of the world may be heading toward water bankruptcy. Should private ownership of water rights and delivery systems be encouraged, rejected, or better managed?
(Global Ethics Corner, February 2009)

Corruption in the Water Sector
Patrik Stålgren, Göteborg University
The global water crisis is primarily a crisis of governance, and corruption affects the governance of water by affecting who gets what water when, where and how. The World Bank suggests that 20 to 40 percent of water sector finances are being lost to dishonest and corrupt practices.
(Swedish Water House Policy Brief, posted on Global Policy Innovations, Fall 2006)

Winning the Water War
Marcela Olivera, Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua y de la Vida and Jorge Viana, ASI ES
Olivera and Viaña recount how Bolivians mobilized a successful campaign to overturn the government's decision to privatize their local water system.
(Human Rights Dialogue article, June 2003)

Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water
Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians
Many developing countries are privatizing their water industry, and as a result many poor people cannot afford clean water. "Leaving water in the hands of private companies—which are driven by commercial concerns and are not accountable to anyone—is socially and environmentally immoral."
(Public Affairs Program, December 2002)


Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization
Steven Solomon, Journalist
Everything hinges on water; it is essential to life and to civilization. Will there be enough fresh water for 9 billion of us by 2050?
(Public Affairs Program, March 2010)

Security and Scarcity, the Two-headed Problem of Asian Hydropolitics
Saleem H. Ali, University of Vermont
With the Tibetan plateau serving as a "third pole" of available water, and the rift widening between China and the Dalai Lama's government in exile, it is high time that innovative strategies be considered for conflict resolution and water scarcity in Asia.
(Global Policy Innovations article, September 2009)

Water Wars
Jeffrey Sachs, Earth Institute at Columbia University
Many of the global security hotspots lie in a great arc of arid lands where water scarcity is leading to failed crops, dying livestock, extreme poverty, and desperation.
(Project Syndicate article, posted on Global Policy Innovations, May 2009)


Kenya Waits for Rain
Lily Muldoon, Think Impact
As a way to alleviate the growing water crisis, the Student Movement for Real Change spearheaded a dam expansion project in Kayafungo, Kenya.
(Global Policy Innovations article, March 2009)

Managing Water Well
Christina L. Madden, Carnegie Council
The economic stimulus bill signed this week by President Obama includes billions for water projects in the United States, but this is just a drop in the bucket when compared to the need for global water management.
(Global Policy Innovations article, February 2009)

In the Trenches for Clean Water
Saul Garlick, Think Impact
Water is poised to be the most baffling challenge of the 21st century. A Kenyan women's group is digging trenches to show how leadership and partnership can deliver fresh, local solutions.
(Global Policy Innovations article, January 2008)

Tapping Partnerships for Drinkable Water
Ann Roberts, Journalist
About 1.2 billion people live without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, a number that will certainly grow without continued pressure for innovative solutions. Cross-sector partnerships and local projects are leading the way.
(Global Policy Innovations article, November 2007)

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