Worldwide population growth and the related rapid increase in urbanization is already posing problems in many areas for the management of that most precious of resources, water. With these problems only set to intensify, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has released a report outlining the challenges humanity faces to maintain water resources in the face of demographic growth and climate change. Called Meeting the Water Reform Challenge, the report says that urgent reform of water policies is crucial in order to preserve human and environmental health as well as economic growth.

According to UN figures, more than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water. Another 2.6 billion lack adequate basic sanitation. The OECD identified three areas that need to be reformed: financing, governance and the interface between water policies and those that govern other sectors of the economy. The report offers practical advice and policy tools to help governments introduce reform in their water sectors.

Global water demand (Source: The Environmental Outlook Baseline,output from IMAGE suite of models)

The water technology sector can play an important role to create a water-sustainable future. The head of the OECD’s Water Unit, Xavier Leflaive, said that technological innovation can help curb water demand (through drip irrigation, smart urban water systems, etc.), improve water quality (for example, wastewater treatment techniques) and embracing better use of alternative water resources such as rainwater.

Xavier added that non-technical innovations matter as much as technological ones, and these include measures such as decoupling utility revenues from the volume of water sold. He also warned that current policies can be an obstacle to the adoption of technologies that are already in place.

“We need policies which do not prescribe a particular technology, but trigger innovative responses and facilitate their diffusion, in particular in developing countries,” he said.

Although over the last 40 years there has been fewer game-changing breakthroughs in the water technology sector than other sectors, such as communications and IT, the water/energy nexus has been prompting innovation in a market that is expected to move US$22 trillion globally in the coming years.

The OECD's report is available for download here.

The following video from the OECD highlights some of the water supply challenges the world will face in the future and provides some potential solutions.

Source: OECD