Climate change Education for Sustainable Development Higher Education Integral Human Development Water

The water war: Is water a common good?

Is water a common good, when so many people still do not have the right to it?

More than ever, climate change and the need for an urgent response to it are the order of the day.

Although the prevention, combat and mitigation of climate change have long been discussed, news of natural and other disasters is becoming increasingly frequent, calling a concerted response into question.

Agreements are signed, initiatives are declared, days are marked, strikes and demonstrations are scheduled, yet we are still on the verge of a disaster on a global scale with consequences for all.

After many years of warnings, the alert has changed in tone and gained greater prominence over the last year.

The most pessimist among us talk of water shortages triggering a third world war, while others say that populations around the world will have to learn to live with shortages and alternatives. 

What is worrying is that in 2022 there are populations that still do not know what it is to have drinking water. It is only when we experience such a thing that we can really understand what it means. It becomes impossible to remain indifferent and to continue living in the same way. Wasting water is part of our everyday lives and yet most people are completely unaware of this.

Moreover, sadly some people that do have taps in their homes still have no drinking water or water for cooking. There are still people who have to walk miles to find water for their families and their animals; there are still people who struggle every day to water the land so that it will provide food for themselves and their families.

It is well known that in the coming decades the availability of water is threatened. According to Vedachalam and Mancl (2012), the long-term solution to this problem lies in the reuse of wastewater. In addition, Islam, Lefsrud, Adamowski, Bissonnette, and Busgang (2013) note that exploiting the potential of rainwater and water recycling could help foster the sustainable management of water resources. According to the authors (Islam et al., 2013), harvesting rainwater not only has the potential to reduce the demand for water, but it may also contribute to other sustainable objectives, including reducing pollutant loads from storm water, reducing erosion, and inducing natural flow regimes through flood control in urban streams.

Various studies have suggested that Higher Education Institutions have a role to play in sustainable development, and specifically in relation to water, as leaders of innovative solutions that can meet the challenge of this increasingly finite resource (Johnson & Castleden, 2011).

A number of studies between 2011 and 2013 claimed Higher Education Institutions’ role of promoting knowledge and values within the scope of their activities serves the purpose of combining initiatives that can leverage the management of water resources (e.g., Johnson & Castleden, 2011; Vedachalam & Mancl, 2012). The work of Islam et al. (2013) revealed that the harvesting of rainwater at the university was sufficient to irrigate two greenhouses, and although this initially caused an algae problem, now resolved, the system continues to be implemented in the institution. However, according to several researchers, these still isolated and fragmented initiatives do not guarantee the environmental sustainability of a university campus. In other words, higher education institutions have not yet achieved an effective internal environmental management, especially with regard to their water resources.

Unfortunately, there seems to have been a decline in studies on the role played by Higher Education Institutions in promoting initiatives leading to solutions to address the finite nature of water. Both education for more sustainable behaviors and research on prevention, combat and mitigation measures are crucial to the response to this growing challenge – namely water as a common good guaranteed to ALL.


Islam, S., Lefsrud, M., Adamowski, J., Bissonnette, B., & Busgang, A. (2013). Design, Construction, and Operation of a Demonstration Rainwater Harvesting System for Greenhouse Irrigation at McGill University, Canada. HortTechnology hortte, 23(2), 220-226. doi:10.21273/horttech.23.2.220

Johnson, L., & Castleden, H. (2011). Greening the campus without grass: using visual methods to understand and integrate student perspectives in campus landscape development and water sustainability planning. Area, 43(3), 353-361.

Vedachalam, S., & Mancl, K. (2012). Water Resources and Wastewater Reuse: Perceptions of Students at the Ohio State University. Ohio Journal of Science, 110, 104-113.

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Ana Marta Aleixo (2022, 29 Dezembro). The water war: Is water a common good? Desenvolvimento Humano Integral. Recuperado em 25 de Abril de 2024, de

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