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Water Policy 5 Number 5 529-544 (2003)

Water poverty indicators: conceptual problems and policy issues

François Molle and Peter Mollinga

Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), France, seconded to the International Water Management Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Irrigation and Water Engineering Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, seconded to the Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad.


In the wake of a growing concern about both the unchecked rise of poverty and the local and global consequences of water scarcity, the relationships between water and poverty are the object of a sprawling literature. Indicators are presented as indispensable tools for informing and orienting policy-making, comparing situations and measuring performance. This paper first reviews different conceptions of water scarcity and shows the variety of associated causes. A brief look at the virtues and shortcomings of some of the indicators used in the development sector then serves to introduce a review of the major water-scarcity/poverty indicators found in the literature. The reasons for their popularity and vitality are critically examined, and the links between indicators and policy-making are discussed.

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