Response to emergency staying alive

Reduced demand for water is typically a result of, not a solution for, the problems that arise in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters or major accidents. Appropriate measures cannot, for the most part, be brought into operation in the time scale of weeks to months. To be part of the solution, demand management must be in place before the event occurs.

There are two exceptions to the foregoing generalization, both of which apply mainly to seasonal or exceptional droughts. First, many communities in affluent countries have measures that limit optional uses of water, notably landscaping, when water resources are low. Lawns and home gardens can account for more than half of summertime water use, and the necessary regulations are self-enforced by the community. Second, in many countries, there is an assumed or legislated hierarchy for uses of water that typically puts drinking water in first place and commercial irrigation in last place. Whenever supplies are threatened, those uses deemed most important receive priority. Similar ranking appears in religious legislation going back to Biblical times (Hirsch, 1959). The role of agricultural water use as a reserve sector that can be called upon when needed to supply higher priority uses is well illustrated by the system in Israel (Allan, 1995; Ben-Zvi et al., 1998).

As the emergency and stabilization phases of disaster management shift to the recovery and rehabilitation phases, demand management and soft paths come back into consideration. If previous systems failed, it makes sense to consider how they can be redesigned to be less vulnerable. For example, construction costs can be minimized by placing pipelines in a wadi or on the bank of river, but such placement increases the risk of disruption. It is more expensive but more secure to place pipelines higher up on the slopes. Disasters are also an opportunity to introduce new forms of water management that promote reduced demand. Emphasis on local water supply and treatment rather than central plants will reduce the length and diameter of pipelines, which are both the most expensive and the most vulnerable component in urban systems (see for example Stimson and PeƱon, 2004).

Continue reading here: Promoting water security through demand management

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