Rational Waste: The Political-Economy of Desalination

20 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2014 Last revised: 30 May 2019

See all articles by David Zetland

David Zetland

Leiden University - Leiden University College

Date Written: December 7, 2014


This paper explores the economic and political dimensions of responding to water scarcity by increasing supply rather than reducing demand with examples from San Diego (US), Almeria (ES) and Riyadh (SA). Each case explains how leaders benefit by obscuring the costs of desalinated supplies. In San Diego, marginal costs are diffused among customers. In Almeria, they are absorbed by a government eager to reduce unsustainable groundwater use. Rulers in Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, absorb costs to diffuse political unrest. Each case discusses reforms that could substitute for further desalination (greater regional trust, improved groundwater management and reduced irrigation, respectively) and complement existing desalination operations.

Keywords: drinking water, irrigation, energy, sustainability, political-economy, desalination

JEL Classification: D3, D7, H3, Q2, Q4, Q5

Suggested Citation

Zetland, David, Rational Waste: The Political-Economy of Desalination (December 7, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2498938 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2498938

David Zetland (Contact Author)

Leiden University - Leiden University College ( email )

P.O. Box 13228
Den Haag, 2501EE

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/staffmembers/david-zetland#tab-1

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