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Water security: from abstract concept to meaningful metrics

Working papers

Written by Nathaniel Mason, Roger Calow

This ODI Working Paper responds simultaneously to two concerns. The paper is written primarily from the technical perspective, with a pragmatic focus on what can be measured: the emphasis is therefore on indicators and the availability and quality of underlying data. At the same time it retains the political perspective, with attention to the aspirational debates about what should be measured.

Water security is emerging as a possible unifying concept for the different things water managers are trying to achieve, which could therefore be relevant in thinking about how to frame global goals and targets on development and the environment. At the same time, irrespective of global policy agendas, developing country governments and donors continue to be faced with pressing challenges about how best to manage and develop water resources for the benefit of people, ecosystems and economies. There is, then, an acute need to identify appropriate water security metrics at the national level also.

After setting out the rationale for the research in greater detail, the paper reviews the three concepts of water scarcity, risk and security. Building on this analysis, it identifies five key themes which are encompassed by the emerging concept of water security, and which can help structure the development of a pragmatic, yet aspirational, metrics framework:

  • Water security goes beyond immediate physical availability.
  • Water security requires us to address variability and risk.
  • Water security needs a human focus.
  • Water security also requires us to meet environmental needs.
  • Water security requires management of competition and conflict.
Nathaniel Mason and Roger Calow