3 Dec 2009

Cowards, not Leaders

From here:
In a perfect world, governments would start by addressing issues such as over-irrigation and water wastage in industry before opening their wallets to build desalination plants and divert rivers, but it tends not to happen like that. Large water infrastructure projects continue to proliferate.

That is because it is easier to change technologies than behaviour.

During the panel discussion after the report presentation, I asked John Briscoe, the ex-World Bank water expert who now heads the Water Security Initiative at Harvard University, why ending the policy of free electricity to pump water for irrigation was not considered the most cost-effective solution for closing India’s water gap? “Have you ever run for election in the state of Gujarat?” he replied.

That is the nub of it, and also the reason why Gujarat is considering a $129 million desalination plant in Kutch. It is one of the ironies of the water sector: because politicians are so unwilling to expose their electorate to the full cost of water, everyone ends up paying more for it.
Addendum: John Briscoe clarifies that the quotation above "was misleading since I also spoke about second bests (not much beloved by "get the price right economists" and described the innovative way Gujarat was addressing this." He recommends that you watch the CSPAN discussion (at one hr, 55 minutes in) to understand the full story.