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close this bookToward Sustainable Management of Water Resources (World Bank, 1995)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentDirections in development
View the documentAcknowledgments
View the documentA new appreciation for water
View the documentFailure of current policies
View the documentFour principal failures
View the documentNew stresses require a new approach
View the documentA framework for improving the management of water resources
View the documentA comprehensive cross-sectoral approach
View the documentWater use per capita declined nearly 10 percent.
View the documentEnvironment and health
View the documentConclusion
View the documentBibliography

Four principal failures

Because Water is considered a strategic resource and public good, governments have always assumed central responsibility for its management. The variable quantity and quality of water and the highly interdependent character of water activities make it difficult to use unregulated markets to deliver water efficiently or to allocate it among sectors. However, although reliance on market forces alone is not possible or even desirable, government mismanagement of water is the greatest cause of serious misallocation and waste. There are four principal and related problems in the way governments have managed their water resources.

· Water management is fragmented among sectors and institutions, with little regard for conflicts or complementarities among social, economic and environmental objectives. There are multiple agencies for different uses-for example, irrigation, municipal water supply power, and transportation-and intersectoral interactions within an interdependent system are usually ignored. Issues of water quantity and quality and concerns about health and the environment are treated separately, as is the management of surface water and groundwater. In many countries where individual states and provinces have jurisdiction over water in their territory, the same water source will be development without considering the impact on other states. Similarly, domestic, industrial and commercial stipplies often are provided by local governments that are not coordinated with provincial or national water departments (box 1). The result often is excessive and unproductive investments, with different agencies developing the same water source for different uses

· There is a heavy dependence on centralized administration to develop operate, and maintain Water systems. The number of public employees Working in water utilities in countries is a symptom of tile problem inefficient countries typically have 10 to 20 employees per 1,000 water connections compared with 2 to 3 employees per 1,000 connections in efficient utilities. The agencies charged with water management are severely over extend and have limited technical capacity to provide quality services. There is little stakeholder or private sector involvement in water activities. Users are rarely consulted or otherwise involved in planning and managing water resources. The result has been unreliable projects that produce services that do not meet consumers' needs and for which they are unwilling to pay.

· Most countries do not treat water as an economic good. Low value users are allowed to consume large quantities of water without paying for it, forcing high-value users to incur steep costs in securing water from long distances. The result is waste and depletion and less than fully productive investments For example, in 1990 it was estimated that reallocating water from two agricultural areas to metropolitan San Francisco and Los Angeles would over a period of ten years, yield some $2 billion in net benefits

It is far easier politically to develop new water supplies than to charge constitutes for water. The result is that investments are made in water infrastructure that are not economically or environmentally sustainable Farmers, for example, have few incentives to refrain from growing waterintensive crops or to conserve water because they often pay little or noticing for their water prices are low in some dry areas that it is often profitable for farmers to grow corn for animal feed. Water is also underpriced in most towns and cities, producing users with little incentive to conserve A recent review of World.

Box 1. Fragmented Water Management: Examples from South India

Water resources have been overdeveloped in a number of countries primarily due to fragmented decisionmaking. One example is the Chittar River in South India, whose highly variable flows have traditionally been diverted at many points into small reservoirs (tanks) and then used to irrigate the main rice crop following monsoon rains. Diversion channels are large to accommodate flows during floods. Thus, when a storage dam was constructed, the uppermost channel was able to absorb essentially all the regulated flow. The upper tanks now tend to remain full throughout the year, concentrating benefits and increasing evaporation losses. The more extensive lower areas have largely reverted to uncertain rainfed cultivation. Constructing the storage dam without adequately considering downstream users and the storage capacity already in the basin is a good example of how developing an individual project in isolation can cause significant economic losses.

Uncoordinated, multiple jurisdictions can also be problematic. The Amaravati River is a tributary of the Cauvery, which is the most disputed major river in India. Without a Cauvery agreement, Karnataka (the upstream riparian state) has steadily developed massive irrigation schemes, depriving the delta (Tamil Nadu's rice bowl) of its accustomed supplies. Moreover, Tamil Nadu has been developing the Amaravati. Releases are made from the Amaravati Dam for the traditional areas, but these areas are far downstream, and substituting regulated flows for flood flows has encouraged the development of private pumps along the riverbank. New electric connections have now been banned, but little can be done to control illegal connections or diesel pumps, and little water now reaches the lowest command areas, let alone the Cauvery. Finally, new storage dams are being constructed on tributaries both in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, further depriving not only the old lands but also the new lands and the pump areas of water.

Source: World Bank 1993a

Bank-financed municipal water supply projects found that the price charged for water covered only about 35 percent of the average cost of supplying the resource. Irrigation charges are almost always far less.

The absence of financial discipline has an especially negative impact on the incentives and accountability of public authorities to provide high-quality services, especially to the poor. Of all the infrastructure sectors, water has the least cost recovery (figure 2), making this sector more dependent on public budget transfers. Contrary to conventional wisdom, lack of pricing or underpricing of water has a disproportionately negative effect on the poor, yielding a vicious cycle of unreliable service, low willingness to pay, and further decline in capacity to provide services (box 2). Poor people do not have access to water services, and the services they do receive are often far more expensive than what everyone else pays. In fact, in most cities of the developing world, people who do not have access to water pay ten times more for it than people who have taps in their homes.

· Finally, current water resources management neglects linking the quality of water to health, the environment, and economic development. Environmental degradation of water resources causes human suffering and burdens future generations with the costs of remedial actions. Economies also suffer directly from pollution and misuse of water. In Poland, for example, three-quarters of the river water is too contaminated even for industrial use. Agricultural output and productivity are also declining because of environmental degradation resulting from poor drainage and irrigation practices. In India, a country that depends on irrigation for most of its food, more than 4 million hectares of once-productive land have been abandoned because of waterlogging and salinization. Today, 10 to 15 percent of the world's irrigated land is affected by waterlogging.

Many public investment projects have adversely affected the quality of water and contributed to the degradation of aquatic ecosystems. In part, this has resulted because piecemeal evaluations of water resource projects have often overlooked the cumulative environmental degradation caused by several projects and because the interactions within the ecosystem have not been adequately considered. The misuse of land, particularly in agriculture, forestry, and mining, has resulted not only in the sedimentation of waterways and water pollution but also in poverty, as lands fail and families are forced to relocate, often to overcrowded cities. Because many irrigation projects lack drainage components. they have caused waterlogging and concentrated large quantities of salts. Moreover, when water is diverted upstream for irrigation and other uses, downstream areas that support sensitive water-dependent ecosystems including wetlands, become less able to fulfill their valuable functions such as filtering pollutants and supporting biodiversity. Important river fisheries have been eliminated by such diversions, and important deltas have been impaired by low flows. Some development projects have deprived poor people, particularly the rural poor of access to water of adequate quality and quantity to sustain them and their economic activities. This has occurred when traditional riverine communities have not participated in planing and implementing projects and when their needs have not been incorporated in them. An extreme example of all these problems is the ecological disaster surrounding the Aral Sea (box 3).


Degree of Cost Recovery in Infrastructure Sectors

Box 2. What Do the Poor Pay for Water?

Several studies show that the urban poor pay high prices for water supplies and spend a high proportion of their income on water. For example, in Port-at-Prince, Haiti, the poorest household sometimes spend 20 percent of their income on water; in Onitsha Nigeria the poor pay an estimated 18 percent of their income on water during the dry season compared. With uper-income household who pay 2 to 3 percent; and in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, and in Ukunda Kenya, the turban poor append up to 9 percent of their income on waters in Jakarta, Indonesia. 0f the 7.9 million inhabitans only 14 percent of household receive water directly from tile municipal system. Another 32 percent buy water from street vendors, who charge about $1.50 to $5.20 per cubic meter depending on their distance from the public tap. In some cases, household purchasing from vendors pay as much as twenty-five to fifty times more per unit of water than households connected to tile municipal system. This phenomen is also found in Karachi, Paki Port-au-Price Nouakchott Mauritania Dacca, Bangladesh Tegucigalpa, Honduras and Onitsila.

Source: World Bank 1993a

Although funding for water supply projects receives attention, too often adequate sanitation does not. New water is L roughs into urban areas, which creates large amounts of untreated, polluted wastewater that is often shell used by the urban poor This not only perpetuates disease but also creates larger environmental problems down-river, especially when sanitation projects include only the collection of sew age without adequate treatment. in developing countries, high economic costs are associated with the practice of boiling water as well as with the treatment of diseases, such as the Hepatitis A outbreak in Shanghai. In 1991, polluted water from Amman's poor sewage works and industrial effluents severely damaged 6,000 hectares of land down-river used for irrigated vegetable crops. And in Peru, the first ten weeks of a cholera epidemic caused $1 billion in losses from agriculture exports and tourism-more than three times the amount the nation invested in water supply and sanitation during the 1980s.

Box 3. The Aral Sea: Lessons from an Ecological Disaster

The Aral Sea is dying. Because so much water teas been diverted, particularly for irrigation, the volume of the sea has been reduced by two The sea's surface has been sharply diminished the water in the sea and in surrounding aquifers has become increasingly saline, and the water supplies and health of almost 50 million people in the Aral Sea Basin are threatened. Vast art es of salty flatlands have been exposed as the sea has receded, and salt from these areas is being blown across the plains onto neighboring cropland and pastures, causing ecological damage. The frost-free period in the delta of the Amu Darya River, which feeds the Aral Sea, has fallen to less than 180 days, below the minimum required for growing cotton, the region's main cash crop. The changes have killed a substantial fishing industry and the variety of fauna in the region has declined drastically. If current trends content unchecked, the sea will eventually shrink to a saline lake one sixth of its 1960 size.

This ecological disaster is the consequence of excessive extraction of water for irrigation from the Amu Darya anti Syr Darya Rivers, witch feed the Aral Sea. Total river runoff into the sea fell from an average 55 cubic kilometers a year in the 1950s to zero in the early 1980s. The irrigation schemes have been a mixed blessing. Soils have been poisoned with salt, overwatering has turned pastureland into bogs, water supplies have become polluted by pesticides and fertilizer residues, and the deteriorating quality of drinking water and sanitation is taking a heavy toll on human health Although it is easy to see how the problem of the Aral Sea might have been avoided, solutions are difficult to implement. A combination of heftier technical management and charging for water or allocating it to the most valuable uses could prompt shifts in cropping patterns and make more water available to industry and households.

But the changes needed are vast, and there is little room for maneuver. The Central Asian republics (excluding Kazakhstan) are poor: their incomes are 65 percent of the average in the former U.S.S.R. The regional population of 35 million is growing rapidly, at 17 percent a year, and infant mortality is high. The states have become dependent on a specialized hut unsustainable, pattern of agriculture. irrigated production of cotton, fruit, and vegetables accounts for the hulk of export earnings.

Any rapid reproduction in the use of irrigation water will reduce living standards further unless these economies receive assistance to help them diversify away from irrigated agriculture. Meanwhile the salinization and dust storms erode the existing land under irrigation.

This is one of the starkest examples of the need to combine development with sound environmental policy.

Source: World Bank 1992

In Colombia, cleaning up the Bogota River would cost an estimated $1.4 billions. In Shanghai, the cost of moving intakes upstream, because of pollution, is $300 million, while in Lima, upstream pollution of the Rimac River has increased treatment costs by 30 percent.

Generally, there is a tendency to expand water supply, without adequate attention to sewer or sanitation which cannot handle the increased wastewater created by the expansion. Without more attention to the removal and treatment of sewage diseases will continue to spread among the poor, and the economic and environmental deterioration will persist. Improved low cost and more appropriate technologies are now available to mitigate the high costs of conventional sew erase and sewage disposal systems.