Out of balance…
Step #4

Out of balance …

In general, we can speak of three main water users: (1) agricultural (2) industrial and (3) domestic users, whereas agricultural is the largest consumer with around 70%. Domestic represent the smallest consumer group with only 10%, leading to the question if our direct household consumption (e.g. for taking a shower or washing our clothes) actually has the biggest impact on improper use of water. Every year human influences grow and cause more and more changes to natural processes, including the hydrological cycle. These changes bring about alterations to the water balance and to water resources and their availability – especially in certain regions. The rapid growth of population, the development of industrial production and the rise of agriculture have resulted in the increased use of water.[1]

Due to its increasing scarcity and uneven distribution across the globe, water is gradually becoming a geopolitical resource, influencing the power of nations. At the same time, it becomes also clearer that water is an economic good, as already stated in the so-called Dublin principles at the International Conference on Water and the Environment (ICWE) in 1992: “Principle No. 4: Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good”. 2] This should not only be seen as a threat to the natural resource, but also from the perspective that only if the refinancing of water services – this includes all costs that are necessary in order to produce, treat and distribute (drinking) water – is secured, under an equal consideration of social, environmental and economic aspects, the right to water can be implemented sustainably. However, as the (economic) value of water differs between the three main users - domestic, agricultural and industrial - water resources are exposed to increasing pressure and are constantly evaluated: Supply to urban households or irrigation for agricultural and industrial purposes? Answering this question is especially difficult in regions suffering from inefficient water management or unsustainable water governance practices and water scarcity at the same time.

“For industrial and agricultural use, the value is […] at least as large as the marginal value of product.” [3]

In many cases, wrong priorities and existing (political and economical) international dependencies lead to a shift from benefitting urban households to benefitting industrial and agricultural users. As a result, our never ending natural water cycle has to constantly cope with new challenges and changes and certain regions cannot solely rely on a natural and sufficient recharge of their water resources anymore.


  1. World Water Resources at the Beginning of the 21st Century - I.A. Shiklomanov, J. C. Rodda - 2003
  2. The Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development - ICWE - 1992
  3. Water is an economic good: How to use prices to promote equity, efficiency, and sustainability - Rogers, et al. - 1998

Further Readings

The Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development

ICWE · 1992

Water as an economic good: The value of pricing and the failure of markets

P. van der Zaag, H. H. G. Savenije · 2006