Table of Contents

Handbook of Sustainable Development

Handbook of Sustainable Development

Second Edition

Edited by Giles Atkinson, Simon Dietz, Eric Neumayer and Matthew Agarwala

This timely and important Handbook takes stock of progress made in our understanding of what sustainable development actually is and how it can be measured and achieved.

Chapter 31: Sustainable development of water resources

Matthew Agarwala and Tony Allan

Subjects: economics and finance, environmental economics, environment, environmental economics, environmental geography, valuation


This chapter begins with a game – one that you can (and should!) play with your friends and colleagues. Begin by asking them to name three natural resources. My students gave me a robust list of the usual suspects. The predictable cocktail of fossil fuels – oil, coal and natural gas – featured most prominently; forests and fisheries came next; finally, there was a smattering of rare earth metals – mostly copper and gold. A few ventured so far as to list biodiversity and ecosystems, perhaps anticipating Chapter 5 of this volume. But clean water was mentioned only six times, and fertile soil, just once. Round two. Ask the same group to rank three natural resources, the sudden absence of which would most radically affect their lives (that is for which their demand is most inelastic). Was water on this list? Did it come before or after petroleum? How about rich agricultural land? This exercise can be enlightening and very disturbing. It says much about the way we as individuals, societies and governments misjudge the value of water and its ecosystem services. Standard resources – the common responses to our game’s first question – are relatively well researched and understood. Costs and benefits can be reported, and more importantly, accounted. Economic values can be deduced via the machinery of markets, taxes, subsidies and regulations.

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