Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Forget Oil, Invest in Water

Within a couple of decades water will become the resource most heavily in demand throughout most of the world. By 2030, just four countries - India, China, Brazil and South Africa - are estimated to require fully 42% of the world's freshwater stocks. It doesn't help that each of these four countries already faces serious clean water shortages.

There's now a "2030 Water Resources Group", a consortium of mainly private companies assessing how to meet our world's future water needs. Their study reveals that, by 2030, there'll be a 40 per cent gap or deficiency in available, clean freshwater and global demand.

The consortium's solutions appear to lie in conservation and desalination. The conservation part is a no brainer but the desalination remedy is fraught with perils. We're talking about enormous quantities of sea water and, remember, the salt and other byproducts extracted by desalination doesn't simply vanish. They have to go somewhere and the cheapest somewhere is straight back into the ocean. The problem is this can skew salinity levels that can destroy marine ecosystems in the vicinity of the outflow. One water plant's damage may be somewhat localized but a lot of plants could have major regional impacts and this at a time when the world's fish stocks are already reeling.

The World Bank is now strongly advocating for water pricing. The WB maintains that putting a price on freshwater is the only way to enforce conservation and facilitate treatment and delivery. Of course this can also pit massive consumers - industry and agriculture - against relatively powerless consumers, the poor, who are already bearing the brunt of the global freshwater shortage. The line becomes dangerously blurred between pricing water and privatizing the resource. Introducing the "for profit" factor can risk conflicts with national social policy. Isn't water, after all, the ultimate public utility?

You don't have to look hard to discover that conglomerates are already well on the way to establishing a private sector water cartel. They're betting a lot of money that they'll succeed as public sector efforts fail.


Anonymous said...

So, a person buys a piece of land and finds clean fresh water for their own consumption. Does that mean a conglomerate can come along and tell me I don't own the water? If I want to use it I have to pay them for it. Gawd!!!

The Mound of Sound said...

No one actually buys a piece of land anymore. What is normally acquired are only the surface rights. What lies beneath is another matter entirely.