Award winning paper questions link between water scarcity & poverty

iwra_trans_120pxLess water does not necessarily make you poor, but the overall relationship between agriculture, water and poverty is complex and our understanding of it is ill served by attempts to find simple correlations

A far reaching overview of water, agriculture and poverty has won a Paper of the Year award from the International Water Resources Institute. The authors, including IWMI scientist Mark Giordano, looked at river basin level case studies from 3 continents and concluded that perceptions of water scarcity do not necessarily reflect its actual availability, or link directly to levels of poverty.

“People with less available water are not necessarily poorer than those with abundant water,” says Giordano. “In fact, some of the poorest people live in water-rich areas such as Bangladesh, where the poor suffer disproportionately from flooding. Some of the world’s richest people live in water-scarce regions such as Israel.”

The open access paper, Water, food and livelihoods in river basins, explores not just the link between water and poverty, but also at the three way relationship between water, poverty and agriculture.Described as ‘an excellent summary of the state-of-art for basin management’ by one evaluator, the paper’s authors caution against calls for quantifiable measures of this complex problem which can risk poor science and can be used to serve political ends.

The authors accept that, in many situations, agricultural systems can adapt to changing demands but local institutions and norms strongly influence both how productive water can be and how it can be accessed by different groups of people. It is likely, however, that the poorest will suffer in situations where the availability of water or food is reduced if safeguards are not explicitly put in place.
“Understanding how and where this happens is essential if we are to work towards poverty alleviation and increase food and environmental security,” says Simon Cook of the CGIAR’s Challenge Program on water and food and the paper’s lead author. “In order to fully realize potential water productivity we need to take into account the complex links between different components of agricultural systems. Factors such as access to markets or finance and how water and land resources are shared can have a major influence. Unfortunately, these factors are difficult to measure but need to be considered if we want a balanced picture of agricultural development.”

The paper won one of three IWRA annual Best Paper Awards, presented at the triennial World Water Congress XIV held in September 2011 at Porto de Galinhas, Brazil.  The awardees are chosen by a panel of leading water resources scholars selected by the editors of the journal Water International. The criteria for evaluation are relevance, rigor and impact.

Cook, Simon E.Fisher, M. J.Andersson, M. S.Rubiano, J.Giordano, Mark. 2009. Water, food and livelihoods in river basins. Water International, 34(1):13-29.

About the awards: