Water on the Move: An Analysis of International Bulk Water Trade and Its Implications on the Treatment and Conceptualization of Water
Mounting concerns regarding water scarcity have prompted claims likening fresh water to oil. Such comparisons, however, fail to recognize that, unlike oil--indeed, unlike nearly every other resource on Earth--potable fresh water is a non-substitutable and necessary precondition for life. Water scarcity concerns have also incited a debate regarding another conceptualization of water: water as an object of trade in the context of international bulk water trade. Such trade, which involves the transboundary obtainment and transfer of water resources that are valued and appraised in some way, has been identified as a means of sustainably balancing both intensifying water scarcity and increasing global water demand. Opponents of bulk water trade, however, argue that it threatens the preservation of water as a human right and limited unique resource. Diverging from this normative debate, this work investigates how parties to bulk water trade relations approach water as the object of such trade. It does so by compiling the first ever collection of successfully executed instances of international bulk water trade and analyzing case studies representative of varying approaches to such trade. It concludes that, although water is discernably treated as an economic good in the context of bulk water trade, this treatment is more nuanced and flexible than is suggested by bulk water trade detractors. Additionally, this work finds that successful instances of bulk water trade offer insights that could significantly inform the development of an international framework for such trade.
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