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The diversity of water markets: Prospects and perils for the SDG agenda

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Abstract Water markets are used in a wide variety of contexts to (a) increase access to water, and (b) increase water use efficiency by reallocating water to uses with a higher economic value. The global prevalence of water markets may help or hinder achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6, making it essential to understand their role in water management. However, an overarching understanding of what water markets are and how they work across different regulatory and geographic contexts is surprisingly elusive. The literature separates water markets based on their formality and the nature of the goods and services being sold (typically either domestic water or agricultural), but growing water scarcity and increasing urban water demands means that agricultural and urban water use can no longer be considered separately. This review brings together two disparate strands of literature on water markets: (a) markets as a tool for re‐allocation between agricultural uses (including both water rights and irrigation services), and (b) urban water markets to expand access to safe water supplies. Based on a review of 148 studies of water markets, this article explores the similarities and differences between urban and agricultural markets across the spectrum of regulatory formality to identify key findings in water market operation and outcomes, including critiques of market function. Bringing together the work on urban and agricultural water markets highlights important lessons on the role water markets can play in achieving SDG 6. This article is categorized under: Human Water > Value of Water Engineering Water > Sustainable Engineering of Water
Overcoming balkanization in water market research to explore the role of water markets in achieving SDG 6
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Ratio of vendor price: Water utility price (or cost of water to vendor when water utility price not available), with maximum and minimum (where available). Note: This figure does not include connection fees
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Water supply chain in agricultural water markets
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Water market supply chains, Tanzania (Reprinted with permission from Bayliss and Tukai (). Copyright 2011 United Nations Development Programme)
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Average annual water entitlement and allocation prices, southern Murray–Darling Basin

Source: ABARES,

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Water users (households) that acquire water via the market (% of total water users)
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Number of studies on water markets each year 1989–2018 (rolling 3 year average)
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Engineering Water > Sustainable Engineering of Water
Human Water > Value of Water

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