H2bid Blog



The third edition of the United Nations World Water Development
Report (WWDR) was presented at the World Water Forum in Istanbul,
Turkey on March 16, 2009. Taking a more in-depth approach than the
two previous reports, the WWDR focuses on four major elements: the
drivers of change, the use of water for humans and for ecosystems,
the state of the water in the world, and options for responding to a changing

In examining the drivers – or the influences that put pressure on water
resources – the WWDR reminds readers that most human activities have
the potential to exert pressure on water resources and need to be managed.
Specifically, the world’s population is increasing by approximately 80 million
people per year; this means that even more fresh water is needed when today it
is a luxury in most of the world. Additionally, the rapid global rise in living
standards combined with population growth presents a major threat to the
sustainability of human population growth. This is based on the fact that as
populations move from subsistence living to agricultural or industrial societies,
their water needs increase. Improved sanitation, improved access to drinking
water and improved agriculture – all are welcome changes in the developing
world, but all draw more heavily on water.

In the section examining the use of water in our world, the report outlines
the major end-uses of fresh water, the trends behind those uses and the
impact of water scarcity on society as reflected though the end uses.
Agriculture is of course primary on the list; agriculture, by far, is the most
water-intensive human activity. Of course, without agriculture there would
be famine and as such, sacrifices from other areas may have to be made to
sustain our global food supply. On the other hand, advances in low-water
agriculture may help “give back” some of the water now devoted to this
important human endeavor. Also noted in the report are water demands
for energy, health, industry and the environment. Lastly, the report notes
that social efforts to eradicate poverty consume water. We often don’t think
of this when we engage in altruistic efforts to raise the quality of life for
people around the globe but we are, in fact, increasing the strain on the
world’s fresh water supply systems when we do this. The report certainly
commends the efforts of anti-poverty crusaders around the world, but it
does caution that water resource planning should be a top priority for these
efforts, not an afterthought.

In the third major section, the WWDR examines the state of the world’s
water and spends significant time addressing the changing threats and
emerging opportunities that could affect the world’s water. Citing climate
change as a factor, the report notes that droughts have become more
frequent and more persistent in the past few decades. Additionally, the
“over abundance” of water in the form of typhoons, floods and other
disasters have displaced millions in the past few years. Rarely do we
hear about an opportunity coming from climate change, but the report offers
one: with improved water efficiency and distribution, the earth could become
a greener, more verdant planet.

The effect of climate change on the world’s vegetation
The effect of climate change on the world’s vegetation –
two possible scenarios.

The models above are the composite results of 5 different modeling scenarios
and show that, on the whole, a warmer world could be a more productive
world from an agricultural standpoint. The barrier between the present and
that world is water distribution; if that can be improved modestly, the positive
impact on societies around the globe could be enormous.

In the last major element of the report, the WWDR analyzes the options that
lay before us in responding to water needs in the world. The report encourages
“outside the water box” thinking such as incentivizing conservation and
large-scale regional planning rather than simply addressing issues at the
community level. The WWDR also levels constructive criticism at
governments and planning bodies for allowing corruption to become so
widespread in the water industry around the globe; it suggests that by
simply improving transparency many of these problems will fix themselves.
By taking a frank look at governments’ roles in policies and planning, the report
urges policy makers to consider water development planning as a primary step
in any process – rather than a minor detail that can be decided later.

All in all, the report paints a picture of a world in flux; not all outcomes
are determined. Some roads lead to increased water scarcity and turmoil
while others lead to an improved, more productive world. Our future can
be a bright one if we choose it to be. The full report can be accessed here: