EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Distributive Justice in Water Resources Allocation and Management

Seleshi G. Yalew, Jan Kwakkel, and Neelke Doorn
Seleshi G. Yalew et al.
  • Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, Technical University of Delft, The Netherlands (

Water resources management involves allocation of ‘enough’ water, a limited resource, to users and stakeholders from multiple sectors such as agriculture, energy, ecosystems, and water supply. The integrated water resources management (IWRM) framework has been applied for such water resources allocation optimizations in river basins and watersheds with general constraints such as less water may result in operational inefficiency or in drought, and more water may result in risks such as flooding or infrastructure damage.

What seems to receive less attention in such IWRM applications is the role of moral considerations and the importance of distributive justice. 
Different allocation principles could be formulated, stemming from different moral principles and different views on distributive justice discussed 
in the literature:  

-  Utilitarianism: water resources should be allocated based maximizing happiness and well-being for the majority; 
-  Egalitarian: water resources should be allocated such that inequalities are reduced to the largest extent possible; 
-  Pareto: only the vital few should be considered when allocating water resources. 
-  Sufficientarianism: irrespective of inequalities, water should be allocated so that each user/stakeholder gets ‘enough’; 
- Prioritarinism: irrespective of inequalities, water should be allocated so that each the worse-off users/stakeholders get priority in allocating water resources; 

Operationalizing such moral principles in IWRM applications is important for an equitable and sustainable allocation of limited water resources, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions, and in the face of growing societal challenges such as from population growth and climate change.

In this study, we examine the role of moral principles in water resources allocation/optimization efforts. Using case studies in the Como Lake (Italy), Seine River (France) and the Merguellil basin (Tunisia), we demonstrate that operationalizing moral principles in IWRM is critical beyond aspects of efficiency in water resources allocation and/or optimization.

How to cite: Yalew, S. G., Kwakkel, J., and Doorn, N.: Distributive Justice in Water Resources Allocation and Management, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-7274,, 2020