The demand for water is a huge economic, social and political issue. With the Rio+20 conference taking place this week Professor Mark Harvey from the Department of Sociology is featured discussing the issue as part of a series of online videos aimed at highlighting leading research on the environment and development.
The Economic and Social Research Council has launched the Planet and people video series to show how social science is contributing to environmental research across a range of areas - such as societal change and policy uptake, consumer habits, employment, poverty, resource management, security, global development, low-income economies and risk mitigation.
Professor Harvey is leading a major research project on bottled water consumption linked to the Sustainable Practices Research Group, a partnership between UK universities supported by the ESRC.
His research is looking at Europe, Delhi, Taiwan and Mexico City to understand the different ways one of the world’s most vital resources is accessed and consumed.
He said countries like the UK face the challenge of coping with increasing population density in areas of relative water scarcity while the situation in developing cities such as Delhi is one of chronic crisis, needing urgent and ambitious political action.
He said: “In Delhi only one in ten households have tap water, and that is not drinkable, the sewerage system is even worse. Delhi’s great river Yumana was described to us by a senior official responsible for water as a ‘sewer’, and the World Bank told us they had given up on Delhi water provisioning.
“Researching in the slums of Delhi, water is the preoccupation that dominates the lives of millions of people. People use all their resourcefulness and considerable time to acquire water from many sources, and yet they still remain in extreme water poverty.
“There is evidence of both chronic market and, above all, governmental failure, and it is clear that the main challenge is politico-economic.
“The sustainability and availability of drinking water is always a political issue, and we see change in this respect much more to do with political choices than with consumer purchases or practices.”
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in Brazil is being called Rio+20 as it marks the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio in 1992.
World leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups, will come together between Wednesday 20 June and Friday 22 June to shape how to reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet.
Professor Harvey said social sciences and particularly global comparative research could reveal the complex interaction between political, economic, cultural and social issues in relation to water, climate change and sustainability.
“In this way social sciences can provide key analysis of the dynamics of large scale societal change and sustainability, sensitive to different trajectories of development in different parts of the world.”
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