OECD calls for policy reform and technology to prevent impending water crisis


May 2, 2012

The OECD has released a report outlining the challenges humanity faces to maintain water resources in the future (Photo: Shutterstock)

The OECD has released a report outlining the challenges humanity faces to maintain water resources in the future (Photo: Shutterstock)

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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

About the Author
Antonio Pasolini Brazilian-Italian Antonio Pasolini graduated in journalism in Brazil before heading out to London for an MA in film and television studies. He fell in love with the city and spent 13 years there as a film reviewer before settling back in Brazil. Antonio's passion for green issues - and the outdoors - eventually got the best of him and since 2007 he's been writing about alternative energy, sustainability and new technology. All articles by Antonio Pasolini

Wait a minute. People should pay for their water? I already do. Who doesn't? If I should pay more, why is my bill relatively the same each month, year after year? I use drip irrigation, and the rainfall I use is far more than the public water. Methinks the solution as provided by OECD is a minimally thought-out solution. Surely there are more solutions? I am not saying you should not pay more, I am saying that any organization such as this one should be far more impressive in their solutions than just stating you should pay more. Perhaps the wages/salaries in OECD should be reduced, or even eliminated.


Wait a minute again, Ionv66 is right. Methinks the OECD is missing the issue completely. Studies done on water cost, ie what the people using it pay for it have shown that the cost of water is sky high in the developed world compared with the undeveloped world. Where people pay for it their is enough and there are plans for the future, where people want it for free or can't afford it at all there is relatively little and no plans for the future. It all revolves around good governance, the rule of law and sound economic and environment policies. I hate to say it but in the places where there is inadequate water for people, there is a lot of other inadequacies as well like human justice, safe housing, good health care, good basic infrastructure and most commonly good government. Tackling the water issue ahead of these may be the morally correct approach but nothing will be accomplished until the people in those nations demand that their governments fix all the problems.

Greg Riemer

And here I am trying to find an investor for a water desalinizer. Instead of buying into this World Wide Taxation propaganda, we should purify sea water.


Agree with Greg.


We do have a lot of water on the planet.

Challenge entrepreneurs to develop the cheapest industrial seawater purification system by offering a million $ cash prize.

Zachary Cochran

We are developing better ways to desalinate sea water, but reverse osmosis is the industry norm. Its expensive and uses a lot of energy. So you are going to be trading Coal and Gas for clean water. Until we start using nuclear, Sea water won't be a nuclear. There are some plans that combine nuclear power with desalination as a by product, but that's 20-30 years away if we start now.

Michael Mantion

I agree, we should and we do pay to have our water purified and our sewage treated here in the US. Out in the Southwest US they are going to have to spend some money to solve their impending water shortage or people need to quit moving out there. We should fight any national or world tax so poor countries can have clean water. I can see right now that those funds will end in the wrong hands. We have the teleology and solutions for other country's water and sanitation problems, they just need to be able to want to help themselves. If they are too stupid to do what is right, a lot of people will continue to get sick and die. You can't fix stupid.

Larry Hoffman

Knutars: Have you looked into micro-financing? I think people would invest in technology like that.

There's a little bit of a problem with this report in that it reports water used for crops that feed livestock as "irrigation". If we stopped eating so much meat, the amount of irrigation we needed would decrease, and countries exporting meat would be able to use that same water for less environmentally destructive industries, or for feeding their own people.

Charles Bosse

It looks like one of the best places we can reduce water use is in irrigation. I live in Perth, Australia where it is the cultural norm to have a big green lawn. Perth is also pretty much one of the driest places you can live. We already have restrictions on watering days and you aren't allowed to water during winter but I think we need more encouragement to install rain water tanks and grow our own food at home.


Even in the driest locations globally the amount of water vapour contained in a cubic metre of air would astound many. There is a cheap method of capturing it on a small local scale. Do the research! Energy generation can be had cheaply, without constructing massive power plants, again at a local level using the now more advance green technologies. Heavy industry needs reliable base load power supply. Geothermal can be had anywhere, the depth and the one -off cost may vary dependent on location. I'm not talking about million dollar wind turbines either, that only seem to work when wind speed reaches 25 knots or higher. We have to become 'greener' sooner. Solar panels are for example now cheaper to produce and their efficiency is also increasing. What we should concern ourselves about is air quality, food supply, the poor state of our oceans and forests and transport economics for 7 billion and beyond.

The Stav

It is outrageous when I see still we are talking about how water is precious and nothing has been done. As an inventor, in the year 2006 I invented a Valve to save water and I informed our Government, presented my prototype plus gave them a statistic indicating that we can SAVE water by billions of liters per year. I also informed them that this new technology does not require maintenance for over 30 years plus, but I my response from the Water Corporation was that: We don't need your help, We just provide water. Just because they asked me to see one of their friends who supply taps for Water corporation and he offered to get a few million dollars and SHUT my mouth while they keep my invention in their Company SAFE. I have all the document to prove my statement as the Water Corporation looking to make more money through dripping taps than saving our precious water, this means if people are going to save billions liters of water they DO NOT need to pay extra money to Water Corporation and this is a BIG problem for Water Corporation as they are RUNNING a Business not interested to saving water. My design can be viewed from my site called any one who can help to bring this great technology which is "sitting in my workshop" to the hands of people on the planet EARTH they all are welcome. Saied.

saied sabeti
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