Water is a Sick Sector: Where are the Healers?
Dr. Sanford Berg's workshop at Gartner Symposium ITXPO 2013
October 9, 2013
Orlando, Florida, USA
In a 2008 Report, Goldman Sachs labeled the water sector “the petroleum for the next century.” They forecast a sustained focus and investment in the global water sector for years to come. They also point out that the US alone has an estimated backlog of $300 billion to $1 trillion of infrastructure replacement and upgrades (for security) that involves investment rates of up to twice the growth rate for GDP. The OECD argues that meeting the water reform challenge requires establishing fundamental (1) improvements in financing, changes in governance, and increased coherence between water and sectoral policies. A strong case can be made that water reforms will not take place, due to the political economy of water: key stakeholders will block needed reforms, further delaying investments. Drawing upon some recent experiences in the developed and developing world, one can identify some bright spots that illustrate how leadership can improve water sector performance. However, the global foundational elements are extremely shaky: (1) dramatic changes in public attitudes towards pricing and allocating water are unlikely; (2) there will be no dramatic changes in water sector governance (for water resource management and water utility regulation and operations); and (3) the political will to address water use across sectors is pitifully weak. Session participants described their challenges, focusing on information (benchmarking), internal incentives, institutional capacity-building, leadership, and ways to improve governance. The group concluded that communication and citizen education were necessary to improve public understanding of why prices for water and wastewater services can be expected to rise.