The inability to recognize the value of water is the main cause of water waste and misuse, according to the United Nations World Water Development Report (WWDR) 2021. The report was published by UNESCO on behalf of UN-Water.

Despite the difficulty of attributing an objective and indisputable value to a resource which is fundamental to life, it seems necessary to examine water’s various dimensions in order to understand the various aspects of its “value.” This is especially true in times of growing scarcity and against the backdrop of population growth and climate change.

“Water is our most precious resource, a ‘blue gold’ to which more than 2 billion people do not have direct access,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO. “It is not only essential for survival, but also plays a sanitary, social, and cultural role at the heart of human societies.”

The 2021 WWDR addresses the question of the value of water. It shows that waste and careless use stems from the fact we all too often think of water exclusively in terms of its cost price, without realizing its tremendous value that is impossible to price.

“The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic remind us of the importance of having access to water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities,” said Gilbert F. Houngbo, chair of UN-Water and president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). “[It also] highlight[s] that far too many people are still without them. Many of our problems arise because we do not value water highly enough; all too often water is not valued at all.”

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The report emphasizes the great need to broaden the notion of the “value” of water stressing that we cannot confuse the concepts of “price,” “cost,” and “value.”

Although price and cost are potentially quantifiable, the concept of “value” is much wider and includes social and cultural dimensions.

Indeed, water is not like other raw materials that can be treated as commodities and openly traded through stock markets. The challenge is to determine a value for a resource whose importance varies in different areas of economic activity, at different times, without forgetting to take into account its social, environmental, and cultural dimensions.

A copy of the report is available here.

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