Water ethics

Many of today’s water challenges are not merely technological in nature, but also ethical. They are about the trade-off between different functions of water, about the division of responsibilities, and about collective versus individual interests.

Prof.dr.mr.ir. Neelke Doorn

Water is essential for life. While we can in principle survive weeks without food, without water, we would not survive more than a couple of days. While citizens of water-rich countries often take the availability of water for granted, a significant number of people globally are deprived of clean drinking water and sanitation services, with an even higher percentage of people dying from waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea. The World Health Organization (WHO) has calculated that in 2015, one in ten people globally lacked access to safe drinking water, and one in three people lacked access to a toilet. At the same time, an increasing percentage of the global population lives in areas that are at risk of flooding, partly exacerbated by climate change. Flooding is the most deadly type of natural disaster globally. Although most often seen as separate issues, water scarcity and flooding are related. Solutions to water scarcity may have negative impact on safety from flooding and vice versa.

The aim of this course is to provide an introduction to philosophical water ethics. It will present the main philosophical issues in the water domain in a practical way by situating these issues within real cases. Questions addressed will include:

• Is it fair to drink water, knowing that the production of one cup of coffee requires 140 litres of water on average?
• Should we prioritize between different water uses, like agriculture, navigation, and recreation?
• Should we continue building hard flood defences at the expense of the environment?
• Should local citizens be given a voice in water-related decision making?

These and other questions will be linked to ongoing discussions in the relevant other disciplines within philosophy, most notably in ethics of technology, philosophy and ethics of risks, environmental ethics, climate ethics, and global justice.

This course will provide students with an understanding of approaches in water engineering and water policy. Students will get experience with discussing and evaluating ethical considerations in water engineering and water policy. Topics covered include: water and justice, water and economic valuation, water and human rights, water and responsibility, and water and engineering.

After having completed the course the student should be able to:

·         Describe the world’s water challenges, also in view of climatic and geographic developments.

·         Describe and analyse the different water uses and explain how they may lead to competing demands;

·         Describe how the world’s water challenges pose questions of justice and apply different concepts of justice to concrete water problems;

·         Recognize and critically reflect on the methodological and ethical aspects of economic valuation in the context of water;

·         Describe and apply different legal frameworks and rights concepts to the context of water;

·         Describe and apply different concepts of responsibility to the context of water;

·         Recognize and analyse the value-ladenness of water engineering and design;

·        Describe and analyse current water governance practices and identify opportunities to include ethical considerations in water governance.

·       The nature of the world’s water challenges

·       Water and its different uses

·       Water and justice

·       Water and economic valuation

·       Water and rights

·       Water and responsibilities

·       Water and engineering

·       Inserting ethics in water governance

Doorn, N. (2019). Water Ethics: An Introduction. Rowman & Littlefield International.