Switzerland could serve as model for water management

No water in sight: shortages are becoming a key political issue Keystone

Switzerland's water management is the envy of much of the world, but it could still be improved. That's the conclusion of a leading environmental scientist, who says Switzerland should play a greater role in water management internationally.

This content was published on July 6, 2000 - 10:14

Alexander Zehnder, Director of the Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology in Zurich, told swissinfo that Switzerland's first priority should be to modernise the administration of its water network.

Unlike most of Europe, Switzerland's water supply is not managed by a large authority. Instead, water resources fall under the control of individual communal authorities.

"We cannot have 3,000 different communities running the system," Alexander Zehnder told swissinfo. "We have to club them together into bigger sizes."

Zehnder also wants to see greater liberalisation of the water system. He is not calling for all-out privatisation, but he says certain responsibilities could be handed over to the private sector, with overall control remaining in state hands.

He says the entire water infrastructure will need to be replaced within 30 years, and the cost of this is likely to reach around SFr150 billion. Zehnder believes this can be best achieved by combining the efforts of scientists, engineers, business and government.

Zehnder would also like Switzerland to play a greater role in water management internationally.

He warns that the availability of water is becoming a key political issue. And since water availability is linked to food production, he predicts that an increasing number of countries will become net food importers. Current estimates suggest that, within 25 years, trading in food caused by water scarcity will be worth as much as today's oil market.

by Tom O'Brien

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