Is Water a Human Right?
Dr. Upmanu Lall is the Director of the Columbia Water Center, and a leading expert on hydroclimatology, climate change adaptation, risk analysis and mitigation. His research has emphasized hydrology, water resource systems analysis, operations research and stochastic processes with applications to flood/drought risk and uncertainty assessment and the design and operation of water systems. He has pioneered the application of techniques from (a) nonlinear dynamical systems, (b) nonparametric methods of function estimation and their application to spatio-temporal dynamical systems, and (c) the study of multi-scale climate variability and change as an integral component of hydrologic systems. As new knowledge was created in these areas, he has focused on its application to water resources management through innovation in adaptive or dynamic risk management methods that can use information on the structure of climate for simulation or forecasting. Recently, he has become concerned with the issue of global and regional water sustainability, and the more general issue of modeling and managing planetary change due to coupled human and natural dynamics. He is developing technical and policy tools for the projection and management of environmental change as part of a quantitative approach to sustainability of earth systems.
Should water be treated as a commodity today when we are faced with many shortages? The flipside of the question is that we are now looking at even the United States recognizing water as a human right and the way I've been rephrasing that is that we should have the right to pay for water as a human right. And by that what I mean is that we clearly have to have an accessible water source for all humans and other living forms that is guaranteed in some form.
But when we go beyond that, there should be a way by which we can pay for it because if we can’t pay for it we can’t maintain the resources and the model that we have had where we have a fixed charge or no charge at all has not proved to be sustainable in any sphere whether it is industry, whether it is agriculture or whether it is domestic consumption. So this has to be addressed and I think the issue is not what price should be charged, but a pricing structure that doesn’t lead to volatility, doesn’t lead to unfair use or advantage for different sectors and those are the things that have to be designed for the future.
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