Speaking during a recent BBC World Service debate, water expert Dr Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, said that the pricing of water was complex, but if done well it could help alleviate some of the pressures associated with supply.

“There’s more and more interest in water as an economic good. I do think we will see markets for water in limited ways,” he said. Gleick added that water was a political issue, however, and that there could be barriers to how it is allocated within markets.

“There are physical problems about moving it very far and there are certainly social and political problems when you try to transfer water from one place to another.”

This, he said, would limit its potential to be traded as a global community, but felt that priced distribution mechanisms could fare better at a local level.

However Richard Sandor, CEO of Environmental Financial Products – a company that helped develop carbon trading – pointed out that water was already being traded internationally in the form of embedded water within crops and food products.

“The international grain trade is a surrogate for water,” he argued. “I think it’s just finding an imaginative solution to turn what is a local commodity into a global commodity … it’s a technical issue.”

Earlier within the BBC broadcast, Dan Crossley, executive director at the Food Ethics Council, said that businesses weren’t doing enough to address water scarcity issues.

“For food and drink companies, many of those have been taking water seriously for the past few years. I think it’s only the last five years we’ve seen that activity accelerate [but] I think some of those companies still have a long way to go and should do more,” he argued.

“Food is a very thirsty product. What’s critical here is not to focus just on the volume of water used, but where the water comes from.”

Crossley talked of the notion of “exporting drought” whereby food firms are importing fruit and vegetables from water-stressed countries and effectively stripping communities of their water supplies.

“Water is not a simple one to resolve. On one level, an easy win for water is for people across the world to be using water more efficiently … but there are some areas where it would be hugely expensive to treat water and get enough water for business as usual,” he said.

“There is an important role for governments and community groups and businesses to come together and better understand what the water requirements are now and in the long term. It’s really important that businesses don’t come into a water-stressed area and monopolise the water.”

Maxine Perella

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