ARTICLES May 14, 2021

How much is water worth?

How do we determine the value of water? Water made the Earth unique in the known universe. Life started in it, and it sustains life. In that sense, water is priceless. But we do need to answer the question “how valuable is water”, for sustainable development.

Value of a commodity increases when it becomes rare. Water, or fresh water, is in fact becoming scarcer as we humans misuse the available fresh water like there is no end to it. According to assessments, the world will face a global water deficit of 40% by 2030. Are we prepared to reverse the trend?

It may be possible to measure and determine the value of water in certain situations; However, water commands multiple values in our society. Let us see few of the ways in which the value of water is determined.

Valuing water as an economic good

Value of water for food and agriculture

Agriculture uses a major share of world’s freshwater. In addition to the direct economic value we can calculate by the price of produce, value of water is also into alleviating poverty and in turn closing gender gap.

Value of water in industry

Industries require continuous supply of fresh water for its functioning.

Value of water in energy production

Hydroelectric power generation depends on water. Water is also required many other types of energy generation, and the produced energy is required in maintaining and transporting water for other uses.

Value of water in human dignity

Our households and settlements use water for drinking, washing and sanitization. Access to water ensures a life of dignity and equality.

Religious and cultural Value

Water and its sources, be it rivers, lakes or the seas, have always played a major role in the cultural and religious beliefs of human from time immemorial. Rivers have been sacred for tribes, be it the Ganges or Nile or the Whanganui.

According to Water Development Report 2021 Recognizing, measuring and expressing the worth of water and incorporating it into decision-making are fundamental to achieving sustainable and equitable water resources management. As per the UN’s high level panel on principles of valuing water, these should be followed when determining the value of water.


The Bellagio Principles for Valuing Water

  1. Recognize water’s multiple values: Consider the multiple values to different stakeholders in all decisions affecting water. There are deep interconnections between human needs, economic well-being, spirituality and the viability of freshwater ecosystems that must eb considered by all.
  2. Build Trust: Conduct all processes to reconcile values in ways that are equitable, transparent and inclusive of multiple values. Trade-offs will be inevitable, especially when water is scarce. Inaction may also have costs that involve steeper trade-offs. These processes need to be adaptive in the face of local and global changes.
  3. Protect the sources: Value and protect all sources of water, including watersheds, rivers, aquifers and associated ecosystems ffor current and future generations. There is growing scarcity of water. Protecting sources and controlling pollutants and other pressures are necessary for sustainable development.
  4. Educate and empower: Promote educations and public awareness about essential role of water and its intrinsic value. This will facilitate better-informed decision-making and more sustainable water consumption patterns.
  5. Invest and innovate: Increase investment in instituations, infrastructure, information and innovation to realize full potential and values of water. The complexity of the water challenges should spur connected action, innovation, institutional strengthening and re-alignment. These should harness new ideas, tools and solutions while drawing on existing and indigenous knowledge and practices in ways that nurture the leaders of tomorrow.

We will further see how determining the value of water leads us to better measurement and management.