The global dimension of water governance: Nine reasons for global arrangements in order to cope with local water problems

Arjen Y. Hoekstra

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Where water problems extend beyond the borders of local communities, the catchment area or river basin is generally seen as the most appropriate unit for analysis, planning and institutional arrangements. In this paper it is argued that addressing water problems at the river basin level is not always sufficient. It is shown that a substantial part of today’s water issues carries a (sub)continental or even global dimension, which urges for a governance approach that comprises coordination and institutional arrangements at a level above that of the river basin. This paper distinguishes and reviews nine developments that support this argument: • Local issues of water scarcity and flooding will be enhanced or weakened by human-induced global climate change. • Local problems of water pollution are often intrinsic to the structure of the global economy. • There is a growing presence of multinationals in the drinking water sector. • Several national governments are developing plans for large-scale inter-basin water transfers. • An increasing number of water-short countries seek to preserve their domestic water resources through the import of water in virtual form. • Global trade in water-intensive commodities offers the opportunity of global water saving if this trade is from countries with high to countries with low water productivity. • The water footprints of individual people are increasingly externalised to other parts of the world, so that many local water problems are strongly related to consumption elsewhere. • Some people around the world have comparatively high water footprints, which raises the question of whether this is fair and sustainable. • Due to its increasing scarcity and uneven distribution across the globe, water is gradually becoming a geopolitical resource, influencing the power of nations. The described developments raise the question of what kind of institutional arrangements could be developed to cope with the global dimension of water issues. A few possible directions are identified in an explorative analysis: an international protocol on full-cost water pricing, a water label for water-intensive products, a disposal tax on goods that will cause water pollution in their waste stage (to be used for pollution prevention and control), international nutrient housekeeping, minimum water rights, maximum allowable water footprints, and tradable water footprint permits.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationDelft
PublisherUnesco-IHE Institute for Water Education
Number of pages33
Publication statusPublished - 2006

Publication series

NameValue of Water Research Report Series
PublisherUNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education


  • IR-58371
  • METIS-232529


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