There is No Such Thing as Water Scarcity


There is a closed system of water on planet earth. We are led to believe that water scarcity means there is not enough water for people to use, but this is actually due to water allocation and distribution rather than the amount of water available. 

Water has become privatized which means it can now be owned by people, therefore people need to have the means to exchange the ‘value’ placed on water. For example, Thames water is actually owned by small scale private operators, such as Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. If people can’t afford to access water, then it will seem ‘scarce’, however it is just their access that comes into question. The relationship of water stress is not directly correlated to the amount of water from which we draw. It is instead an extraction of wealth from citizens to big investment companies- a basic right to exist as a human has become financialized. 

Water needs to be understood rationally; the consumption, production and sale establishes relationships between different groups of people. 

Flows of water also have power relations embedded in them which also create an illusion of ‘scarcity’, where actually, the direction and consumption of water is being managed by those who hold more control over a river basin. For example, a dam upstream will limit flows downstream. This does not mean that water is scarce, although it may seem it, rather it is not evenly distributed around the river basin. This then creates the question of how water flows support particular political and economic configurations. 

The hydrological cycle charts the state that water travels through, but what the representation continually misses out are people. We need an additional concept, one that pays more attention to the social aspects that change the flow of water. The hydrological cycle can instead include social constructs with political consequences. 

Water is often viewed as purely surface water, but we forget that water is embedded in commodities that we use, this is often called ‘big water’. For example, drinking coffee can actually lead to water insecurity in other parts of the world, where growing coffee beans extracts large amounts of water, just for them to gain income from exporting. This relationship of exporting to the global north therefore exacerbates existing water inequalities. 

This concludes in suggesting: is there such thing as water scarcity or is it all just socially, politically and economically constructed? And then how might we begin to apply this understanding to the development of more equitable water networks.