What is more vital for the future of humanity – and life in general – than water? Water abounds in nature, and most of humanity will have lived more than ten millenniums without ever wondering about it.
We draw it, use it, throw it away, most often back into rivers or oceans. But we could very soon end up not having enough of the fresh water that accounts for just 3% of all the water available on our planet. When one considers the fights we are capable of having over oil, one shudders to imagine where a lack of water could lead. While Latin America seems well endowed, the situation is very different elsewhere. Europe is nearing its limits, and water scarcity is already a pressing issue in Africa, Central Asia, and China.
Over the last 20 or 30 years we have begun to comprehend what is at stake, owing to initiatives like the World Water Forum, which held its fourth annual meeting in March. Unfortunately, the Forum is not yet an official body and has no decision-making power. But providing an arena for thought and debate has brought at least one huge benefit: greater awareness about water issues among the public and policymakers.
Water management is an inherently difficult challenge, and experience counts for a lot. Practice shows that local levels of government provide the most efficient water management, even if regulations must necessarily be national in scope. But this is a division of labor that few national governments are ready to accept.