A review article in WIREs Water published by Wiley in October 2020 written by 23 experts critically examined myths about household water insecurity in high-income countries and provided a new framework to inform future research and policy.
The review identified and disputed six myths about water security in the global North by using the U.S. and Canada as examples. These six myths are: 1) access to safe water is available for all people, 2) water is clean and safe to drink straight from the tap, 3) water is affordable for all people, 4) water infrastructure is reliable, 5) water infrastructure, service and delivery is equally governed, and 6) water in high income and highly developed areas is the best water.
By addressing each of these myths, the researchers demonstrated that even in high-income countries, household water security is not guaranteed.
Water insecurity has not been priority for policymakers in the global North. This oversight can largely be summed up by the term “modern water,” which is a widely held belief that water is universal and secure in high-income countries. This mindset includes the perception that incidences of water insecurity are thought of as exceptions, which reflect individual circumstances, rather than a systemic problem.
“Modern water is the way policymakers as well as governments have envisioned, funded and executed infrastructure in a very specific way that underpins the design of water systems,” said Wendy Jepson, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Geography at Texas A&M University and an author of this review. “It is the paradigm upon which these myths are created.”
This article was the first major review to address household water insecurity in high-income countries. “The real novelty of the work is that it weaves together various threads that we all have been working on, in our own individual projects over the past several years, and we tried to tie them together in a way that creates a new conceptual framework,” said Jepson.
The researchers also identified five thematic areas to direct future research and improve the status of water insecurity in the global North. Collectively these efforts seek to advance a research agenda that addresses core challenges to household water insecurity at the intersection of poverty, housing precarity, environmental degradation and systematic exclusion.
There is no single policy prescription to resolve water insecurity in the global North. Instead, Jepson said she hopes this research will promote a shift in the paradigm about water security in high-income countries that leads to actionable change.
“The important next step that we need to make is to start asking different sets of questions that can really affect and improve the lives of people who are living in conditions of insecurity,” said Jepson. “Otherwise, we're going to continue making the same analytical mistakes and even policy mistakes.”