Ethics of Water Governance

How to secure water availability and water safety in times of climate change?

Big reservoir

Fresh water shortages, climate change, drought and flood risks are important problems our society has to address. By the end of 2014, around 2.5 billion people are still deprived of clean drinking water and sanitation services, with an accordingly high percentage of people dying from water borne diseases. For example, annually 1.8 million people die of just diarrhoeal diseases, largely caused by unsafe drinking water.

At the same time, an increasing share of the global population lives in areas that are at risk of flooding, both in developed and in developing countries. Recent climate change has only increased the risk of floods. Tsunamis have more than once killed thousands and thousands of people in East Asia in this century alone. How to address these issues in a fair and efficient way?

In 2010, the United Nations recognized that access to water is a human right. How can we turn this human right into actual availability of water for every human, considering water is not only needed for drinking and sanitation, but also for agriculture and industry? And since access to water is now a human right, we should take a closer look at the distribution of drinking water. Can we still justify the privatization of water services, for example?

Every day people are suffering from improper water governance: it is a source of poverty and inequality, of sickness and death.

Dr. ir. Neelke Doorn specializes in water ethics. In her current research, she addresses the ethical questions that flood safety poses, for example: if we heighten the dykes in some areas, the risk of flooding downstream will increase; how to distribute the flood risks in a fair and efficient way? Similarly, measures that protect us against floods, like dyke strengthening or detention basins, require space. How to take the interests of individual people into account in the spatial planning of flood safety interventions?

Both in the Netherlands (with the new Deltaprogramma), in Europe (with the implementation of the EU Water Framework directive and the EU Floods directive), and at the global level (with the recognition of access to water as a human right), these are questions that cannot be ignored or solved by technical means alone. Researchers at the 3TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology are working together with other water researchers, engineers, and policy makers to address the water challenges of the 21st century.


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