The Global Water Crisis: Innovations to Watch For

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

In the debate over how to manage the world’s finite natural resources, one issue that has stood out is water. Water pervades all sectors of society and is critical for short-term survival and human health as well as long-term economic development and environmental sustainability.

Environmental problems, especially human-induced climate change, add to these pressures. Since water is a critical resource that is essential for sustaining life, the provision, supply and management of water resources are key issues in any nation’s priorities. Particularly so as developing countries are especially vulnerable to the problems linked to climate change, such as floods, famines and droughts.

In the modern world today, it is estimated that more than a billion people do not have access to adequate supplies of safe drinking water and nearly two billion people do not have adequate sanitation. In this respect, the poor pay disproportionately for water and suffer the greatest impact both from impaired health and from lost economic opportunities. For example, contaminated water causes millions of preventable deaths every year, especially among children, the elderly and the sick.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals pledge to reduce by half the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015. This ambitious target for sustainable water is just one of the goals adopted in September 2000 at the UN Millennium Summit. These goals serve as the world’s time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty. Thus far the UN is not on target to meet this promise and over 10,000 people die everyday from diseases related to lack of safe water.

Recent studies have indicate that the world’s poorest regions are now approaching a “water crisis”–most notably the Middle East and North Africa, parts of Asia where per capita water availability is a tenth that of North America. Furthermore it is clear that the main constraint to agricultural production in many areas in the near future will be the availability of water, not land.

In many nations of the world, prolonged water shortages stem from inefficient use, degradation of the available water supply by industrial pollution and the unsustainable use of groundwater resources. Furthermore massive urbanization and industrial growth is creating unprecedented demands, often at the expense of agriculture, aquatic ecosystems and the rural poor. Poor land use causes land degradation, which exacerbates soil erosion and sediment transport in downstream areas, even coastal ecosystems.

Innovation and Investment

For years, clean-tech and green-tech industry analysts have identified water as a sector to watch, one where innovation is needed and massive capital outlays and profits seem unavoidable. Up to five years ago the old adage was: Will water always remain the “problem of the future,” and not of the present? Despite the maxim that “water is the next oil,” the general consensus is that no one — as far as the water sector is concerned — ever seems to put their money where their mouth is. That has changed. In recent years, significant amounts of investment have poured into the water sector.
Aqua Sciences has turned this cool concept into reality. Paul Lin finds out how and for which clients in a conversation with the company’s CEO.

The world-wide demand for water and water treatment is rising at a torrential pace. For instance, China plans to build 375 wastewater treatment facilities over the next five years. The World Bank has estimated that investments of between $400 billion-$600 billion will be required to meet the demand for fresh water. Over the past few years, concerns about diminishing water supplies, contaminated water and an aging infrastructure have made the water industry one of the hottest areas for investors.

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Source: Wall Street Journal (link opens in a new window)