Water ethics - a substitute for over-regulation of a scarce resource

Poul Harremoës

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Water scarcity is increasing due to increasing demand and diminishing resources. The water scarcity issues have to be distinguished according to availability and applicability, because urban water use does not consume water, but pollutes it. Water scarcity may be regulated by “command and control” and more recently by “economical instruments”. Water ethics is an important, but frequently ignored element in regulation. Equity in availability and applicability of water is the important ethical issue at all levels, from local community to the global scale. The distribution of rights and duties is problematic and no easy solutions are in sight, but attention and awareness are essential. The ethical community has been expanded from a human dimension to include an ecological dimension, which aggravates the dilemma. There have been too many surprises in water quality development, due to unforeseen negative effects of activities in the modern society. Decision making relative to complex systems is frequently marred by uncertainty and ignorance. In such cases, solutions have to be robust, flexible and adaptable to unforeseen changes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWater Science and Technology
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)113-124
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • water
  • risk
  • precaution
  • Environment
  • resources
  • reuse
  • ethics
  • scarcity
  • management


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