Sustainability Science Program Working Paper No. 2013-01

Sustainability Science Program Working Paper No. 2013-01

Water Sector Discussion Paper
Background Paper for the Project on Innovation and Access to Technologies for Sustainable Development

Sharmila L. Murthy, Françoise Bichai, Sharon Davis, Mark Williams, Arani Kajenthira, and Daniele Lantagne

This background paper on the water sector is part of working papers series developed for the Project on Innovation and Access to Technologies for Sustainable Development at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The Project seeks to better understand the key barriers to promoting innovation for sustainable development, and thereby inform the policy and funding priorities of transnational actors with respect to five key global sectors: water, health, energy, agriculture and manufacturing. The Project has developed a conceptual model that divides the global innovation ‘life-cycle’ into a series of stages: (1) invention; (2) filtering/selection; (3) production; (4) initial adoption; (5) sustained and widespread use; (6) adaptation; and (7) retirement. To facilitate cross-sectoral comparison, a common set of criteria has also been developed; these focus on the key mechanisms and barriers present at each stage, as well as the socio-technical nature of the interventions. The Project adopts a broad definition of “technology” to refer to physical artifacts, as well as methods and practices.

This paper applies the Project’s conceptual model to the water sector, following a common template that was developed to facilitate comparison across the water, health, energy, agriculture and manufacturing sectors. Section II of this paper articulates key goals and norms that have influenced innovation within the water sector. The goals are organized into five themes: (1) increasing water availability and access; (2) improving water quality; (3) enhancing water efficiency; (4) addressing water variability; and (5) reducing total environmental impact. The norms section highlights key ideas that have shaped water discourse in recent years, such as the Dublin principles, the Millennium Development Goals, the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation and the concept of water security. Section III describes the key actors and institutions that have shaped the potential for innovation within the water sector. Institutions, defined in the political economy sense of formal and informal rules and norms, include Integrated Water Resources Management, demand management, water quality regulations, and increasing corporate awareness of water stewardship.

Section IV provides an overview of the key barriers in the water sector, which is divided into two categories: (1) water resource management, and (2) water service delivery. Within the category of water resource management, three sub-categories are examined:(i) extraction of available freshwater, such as through groundwater pumping or canals; (ii) large-scale diversion of surface water, such as through dams and inter-basin transfers; and (iii) the conversion of saline or grey/black water to usable freshwater, such as through desalination or wastewater recycling. The water service delivery category is further sub-divided into: (i) centralized infrastructure; and (ii) delivery infrastructure. Each sub-category is analyzed using the language of stages, mechanisms and barriers from the Project’s conceptual model. In general, the key chokepoints in the system occur at the Filtering, Production, and/or the Adoption/Sustained Use stages.

Keywords: water; innovation; sustainable development

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