What Does Sustainability Really Mean

Since its early appearance in 1987, the concept of sustainability has been proposed by many as a philosophy to solve most water problems or conflicts. The US Geological Survey (1999) defines groundwater sustainability, though from an exclusively hydrological point of view. The European Union's (EU) Water Framework Directive (WFD), enacted in December 2000, establishes that it is necessary to promote sustainable water use. Probably, most people agree with this general principle, but its practical application in natural resources management is daunting. Shamir (2000) considers that the sustainability concept has up to ten dimensions including hydrology, ecology, economics, policy, intergenerational and intragen-erational. It is out of the scope of this chapter to elaborate more on this concept. However, it will be used with specific meaning as much as possible.

In our view, sustainability integrates the concept of future generations. But how many of these should be considered? No scientist is able to predict the situation 1000 years from now, and very few dare to present plausible scenarios for the 22 nd century. Most current predictions refer to the needs of humans in one or two generations, i.e. not more than 50 years from now. It is clear that environmental problems have a natural science foundation, but also, and perhaps primarily, a social science foundation. Recently, Arrow et al. (2004) have argued that the accumulation of human capital at a faster rate than the consumption of natural stocks could be considered a sustainable growth path. While saving and investment can make growth sustainable, irreversible effects may warrant more precautionary extraction patterns.

The way to solve the existing water problems, mainly the lack of potable water, is not to persist on gloom-and-doom unrealistic campaigns, trying to create environmental scares and predicting water wars in the near future (see The Economist, 1998; Asmal, 2000; World Humanity Action Trust, 2000) but to improve its management. In other words, the crisis is not of physical water scarcity but of lack of proper water governance, capital and financial resources (Rogers et a/., 2006).

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