Manage water as a common good, urge experts

Source of the River Nile, Sudan. Image: Melissa Askew / Unsplash

A new report has been described as a "call to action on all countries to manage the global water-cycle as a common good," by leading economist and co-author Professor Mariana Mazzucato.

Turning the Tide: A Call to Collective Action says that a sustainable and just water future can be achieved, but that it requires a sea change in how we value, manage and use water.

"That begins with treating water as what it is: our most precious global collective good, essential to protecting all ecosystems and all life. And recognising that we confront a water crisis that is now systemic," say the authors.

Mazzucato, who is professor in the economics of innovation and public value at University College London and co-chair of the Global Commission on the Economics of Water says "a market shaping and massive paradigm shift in water economics to revive the concept of the common good," is required.

Moving ... to mission-oriented innovation policies - with a common good approach - can help us put equity and justice at the centre of water partnerships ... to tackle our biggest water challenges.”

Professor Mariana Mazzucato, University College London

The current, largely localised approaches to water management fail to recognise that countries are interconnected and depend on each other, says the report. This is due not only to transboundary rivers or streams of groundwater, but also due to atmospheric flows of water vapour originating from ecosystems on land.

The water crisis is deeply intertwined with climate change and countries need to collaborate to resolve it. To safeguard the water cycle, the Commission proposes an outcomes-focused, mission-driven approach, which reflects the many roles water plays in human well-being.

It is optimistic at the potential for water to be able to rejuvenate all economies, benefit people everywhere, and unlock progress in all the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals through collective solutions.

“We need new economic thinking to help move from reactively fixing to proactively shaping economies to become inclusive and sustainable” said Mazzucato, adding that “moving from sectoral to mission-oriented innovation policies - with a common good approach - can help us put equity and justice at the centre of water partnerships and bring multiple sectors together to tackle our biggest water challenges.”

It will take greater collective resolve, but the ambition is in the doing and moving ahead with urgency, says the report, setting out a seven-point call to collective action that can be realised by 2030.

"We can convert the water crisis to an immense global opportunity, for economy-wide innovation and a new social contract between all actors—with justice and equity at the centre of our efforts," conclude the authors. "Only in this way can we deliver on the human right to safe water and keep our Earth System safe for humanity."