Water resources – an analysis of trends, weak signals and wild cards with implications for Russia
This paper focuses on the long-term situation with water resources, and water sector in particular, analyzed through a Foresight study. The authors attribute particular attention to implication for Russia, which is relatively better positioned regarding the availability of water resources. However, the country still faces challenges related to the protection of water resources, drinking water supply, water networks, consumption patterns, water discharge, treatment and re-use. The present study aims at identification and analysis of trends, factors and uncertainties in water supply, demand, use and re-use with a particular focus on sustainability of water systems; water use by households and industry; and new water services and products.
Research methodology in this paper involves a horizon scanning exercise for the identification of the key trends, factors and uncertainties along with the identification of weak signals of future emerging trends and wild cards in the form of future surprises, shocks and other unexpected events that may disrupt the preservation of water resources and the future of the water sector. Trends characterize broad parameters for shifts in attitudes, climate, policies and business focus over periods of several years that usually have global reach. These are usually experienced by everyone and often in similar contexts. Trends may represent threats, opportunities or a mixture of them, identified through underlying processes, possible events and other future developments.
A key systemic restriction of water use for the next decades both globally and in Russia relates to competition between agriculture, energy, manufacturing and household water use. Given that the amount of renewable water resources is almost fixed and even decreases because of pollution, circular economy solutions for water use will be required. Implications of the global trends identified in the study for Russia are dependent on the overall situation with water resources in the country. Russia has sufficient water supply: the overall intake of water for drinking and economic purposes in Russia amounts to 3 per cent of the total water resources, two-thirds of which are discarded back to water bodies. At the same time, there are substantial problems associated with the extremely uneven distribution of water resources across the country, as well as high “water intensity” of the Russian GDP. The Russian water sector is currently not very attractive for investors. Moreover, it has significantly less lobbying opportunities than other infrastructure sectors, and this complicates its institutional and financial positions. Meanwhile, there have been some positive changes with regard to activities with a short pay-off period.
The paper offers one of the first studies on the future of Russian water resources with a focus on the water supply and sanitation sector. A comprehensive approach to trends identification (not found in other studies on Russian water resources) allowed authors to identify social, technological, environmental, economic, policy and value-related global trends and uncertainties. Moreover, implications of these trends and uncertainties, as well as Russia-specific trends, were outlined.