Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Resource Economics

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Thaer-Institute | Resource Economics | Research challenges | Problem dimensions | Water shortage and contamination; waste water and sanitation

Water shortage and contamination; waste water and sanitation

Agriculture has historically been the single largest user of fresh water resources. If limited in its temporal and spatial availability, water has at the same time been the most important obstacle to agricultural development. Water is a pivotal input to plant production and animal husbandry. Surface and subsurface water bodies are also important sinks for a number of agricultural wastes including organic manure, mineral fertilizers and pesticides. The local manifestations of the water cycle are a key determinant for a complex system of micro-climatic conditions faced by agricultural production.

Today a multitude of additional social and economic activities depend directly or indirectly on the reliable availability of water. Accordingly, water resources are used for numerous industrial purposes, such as in the cooling of combustion engines or as a solvent in chemical processes. Water further serves as a source for drinking, cooking, recreation and the removal and treatment of human wastes. This overall trend is catalyzed by global population growth and the rapid economic development of major transition countries such as China, India and Brazil.

As in agriculture also most other types of water use tend to rely on the resource’s capacity to simultaneously serve as a source and a sink. Differences, however, exist in terms of the qualities and quantities they require. Furthermore, water is frequently demanded at very different times and locations. The finiteness and the physical mobility of water add up to the problem by resulting in numerous complex interactions between water users across space and time. Water has consequentially become the object of increasing coordination problems and competition.

The theoretical concepts developed by the Division of Resource Economics serve to further extend our analytic capacities for examining existing systems of rules and actors that take part in today’s struggle over water. The quest to analyze how nature-related institutions evolve, how they interact with other sets of social rules and how those institutions determine the allocation of costs and benefits from water use, represents a pivotal step towards facilitating the increasingly important need for coordination of water related conflicts.


This problem dimension has been addressed in the following research projects:

  • ELaN
    Development of an Integrated Approach to Land Management for Sustainable Use of Water and Matter in North-Eastern Germany, Sub-project 9 “Property Rights and Transactions”


Berger, Lars

Economic decision-making from an institutional perspective. The case of non-point-source pollution in Lake Taihu, P.R.C.

Hagemann, Nina

Governing Natural Resources in Transition Countries – the case of waste water management in the city of Lviv (Ukraine)

Hamidov, Ahmad

Community-based Agricultural Water Management: Institutions for Water Management and Conditions for Sustainability of Water Users Associations in Uzbekistan

Jakhalu, Atoho

Governance of Inter-Sectoral Water Re-allocation within the Context of Urbanization in Hyderabad

Kiran, Keerthi

Institutional Analysis for Sustainable Abatement of Industrial Water Pollution in Hyderabad, India

Mackinnon, Anne(extern)

Water Management in the Rocky Mountains: Establishment, evolution, challenge and resilience of locally-crafted institutions in the high, cold dessert of Wyoming

Patil, Vikram

Institutions, Institutional Changes and Impacts in the Rehabilitation of Displaced Farmers: The Case of the Upper Krishna Irrigation Project, India

Deneke, Tilaye Teklewold (2011)

Water Governance in Amhara Region of Ethiopia: An institutional analysis. Institutional Change in Agriculture and Natural Resources, Vol. 45. Aachen: Shaker

Srigiri, Srinivasa Reddy

Institutions of Collective Action for Resource Protection and Poverty Reduction: Participation of the poor in watershed management projects in India

Marelli, Beatrice (2010)

Common-Pool Resources: the Search for Rationality Through Values. Empirical evidence for the theory of collective action in northern Italy

Schleyer, Christian (2009)

Institutional Change of Water Management Systems. Institutional Change in Agriculture and Natural Resources, Vol. 39. Aachen: Shaker

Theesfeld, Insa

Water and Institutional Analysis – Power and Leadership in Natural Resource Management

Chennamaneni, Ramesh

Agricultural Transformation and Institutional Change in India: a comparative study on watershed development approaches and emerging issues for perspective policy