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Water Policy Vol 14 No S1 pp 89–105 © IWA Publishing & the Botín Foundation 2012 doi:10.2166/wp.2012.008

The role of ethics in water and food security: balancing utilitarian and intangible values

Elena Lopez-Gunn, Lucia De Stefano and M. Ramón Llamas

Water Observatory, Botín Foundation, Departamento de Geodinámica, Facultad de Ciencias Geológicas, Ciudad Universitaria, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 28040 Madrid, Spain
Corresponding author. E-mail: e.lopez_gunn@geo.ucm.es


In the past two decades, the world has experienced deep changes in terms of globalization of goods and people, the emergence of new economic powers, political turmoil, and a sustained growth of an increasingly urban global population. These and other factors have deep implications for global water and food security, and make discussion of ethical values – often implicit in global debates – more pertinent. An understanding of the ethical issues underlying water and food security is key to formulating solutions that truly contribute to their achievement. This is particularly true when considering that water and food security is strongly intertwined with human security and environmental security, and these cannot be addressed separately. This paper argues that solving water and food problems is not only a technical challenge but also a problem of fundamental ethical values and political will. It showcases three technological advances (desalination, information technology, and modern groundwater abstraction technology) and one concept (virtual water) that could contribute to secure water and food for a growing population, thus shedding light on the lack of concerted political will to face global and water food securities. In this context, trade has the potential to help countries manage water security in a globalized world, provided that global trade is revisited and undergoes a process of deep reform in the light of ethical considerations. Water and food are not isolated from general socio-economic and political trends. Therefore the drivers resulting in the present economic crisis also affect water and food, and add further complexity to the search for solutions.

Keywords: Desalination; Environmental security; Groundwater silent revolution; Human security; Virtual water trade; Water and food security

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