Water Ethics – Orientation for Water Conflicts as Part of Interand Transdisciplinary Deliberation

Armin Grunwald

Abstract The notion of a water ethics has only emerged over the past 10 years. It is mainly motivated by environmental concerns and the observation of water conflicts. This chapter focuses on the ethical aspects of human interventions into water systems. It describes cultural, moral and religious attitudes towards water and reviews the state of the art in this field. Its main objective is to conceptualise water ethics on the basis of the philosophical approach of discourse ethics and to draw conclusions for ethically responsible interventions into water systems and for dealing reasonably with water conflicts. Far from promising “miracles” from water ethics, the specific added value of ethical considerations lies in providing the orientation for ongoing debates on water challenges by not only applying substantial principles, but by offering suitable procedures as well.

Keywords Water ethics • Value of water • Sustainable development • Environmental justice • Equity • Responsibility • Western World • Islam • Christianity • Human right to water and sanitation

Objectives and Approach

The aim of water ethics is directed at responding to different challenges which have become obvious over the last decades: conflicts of interest in using scarce water resources, creeping river, sea and ocean pollution, devastating human interventions into sensitive water systems (drying-up of the Aral Sea and the Dead Sea as dramatic examples). These challenges have arisen out of human interventions into water cycles, to human changes of the chemical composition of waters by various forms of private and industrial use of water, and to human interventions into natural landscapes. The “human factor” in water systems is at the core of ethical considerations. It focuses on the impact of human interventions and consequences of this impact, assesses these interventions with respect to ethical criteria and explores the options for developing this human factor into a more responsible direction.

The notion of a water ethics has emerged over the past 10 years only and is still relatively unknown in the field of applied ethics. The extent of its body of literature is rather small up to now. It consists of a heterogeneous set of approaches to the value of water in different respects (cultural, religious, ecological and economical) and associated with the debates on sustainable development and environmental justice. To present, the largest part of water ethics has been motivated by environmental concerns and related to the field of environmental ethics.

This chapter focuses on the ethical aspects of human interventions into water systems. And with the following objectives it intends to:

• Describe cultural, moral and religious attitudes on and perceptions of the field of water, in particular, value assigned to water

• Review the state of the art in the field of water ethics and provide an overview and orientation of not only basic diagnoses, argumentation patterns, proposed solutions, but also of shortcomings and criticisms

• Conceptualise water ethics on the basis of the philosophical approach of discourse ethics (Habermas 1991) for providing orientation on how to identify responsible strategies for dealing with water challenges

• Categorise the field of water conflicts with respect to ethically relevant criteria and provide pointers on how to deal with those conflicts reasonably and responsibly

The overview provided, the proposal for water ethics developed, and the conclusions given towards possible contributions to solving water conflicts constitute a theory-based approach to water ethics. It shows that society cannot expect “miracles” from water ethics. Rather, the specific added value of ethical considerations lies in providing the orientation for ongoing debates on water challenges by not only applying substantial principles, but by offering suitable procedures as well. In order to exploit these benefits, ethical inquiries in the field of water must be embedded into interand trans-disciplinary approaches bringing scientific disciplines together with stakeholders, decision-makers and citizens in the regions under consideration.

 
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