Water in the 21st Century
Access to water is considered a fundamental human right and taken for granted by many western people. Nevertheless, due to the rapidly growing world population and the ever-increasing demand for water, the natural resource is steadily becoming a precious and sought-after resource. 2/3 of the earth’s surface are covered with water. However, the breakdown looks like this:
97.5% of the world’s water resources are saltwater resources
2.5% of the world’s water resources are freshwater resources
The United Nations expects the world to consume up to 40 percent more water by 2025 than it did in 2015. In particular, the growing population and changing dietary habits will increase water demand over the next few decades. The steadily improving standard of living in the emerging markets also involves the use of more water and is becoming even more a challenge as the water intensive western lifestyle is taken as orientation. According to UNESCO, the inhabitants of the industrialized countries consume about ten times as much water a day as the inhabitants of the emerging and developing countries. However, as 70% of global water consumption continues to be accounted for by agriculture, growing consumption and rising demand for food are also causes of increasing water consumption.
Water plays a crucial role in this century and most probably even beyond. However, the topic does not yet get the necessary attention it should receive. Neither in politics nor in society or on the world’s stock exchanges are people in charge enough dedicated to the topic although we are already confronted with water problems in most parts of the world. There is generally no shortage of clean drinking water in Western industrialized countries, but, for example, even in so called rich Europe do live 120 million people without regular access to clean drinking water. To overcome the global water problem, in 2000 the United Nations formulated the so-called Millennium Development Goals. According to them, the number of people who do not have regular access to safe drinking water should be reduced by half by 2015. At the same time, access to sanitation should be significantly improved. If one excluded Africa and the Middle East, the first goal would have been achieved at that time, but the second goal was considerably missed. Every second person in developing countries has no access to standard sanitation. However, if all humans had it, 10% of all diseases worldwide could be prevented. This alone shows the enormous investment needs in the sanitary sector in the coming years.
In the foreseeable future, the Middle East and North Africa in particular could be heading for a threatening water shortage. Saudi Arabia, Libya, Jordan and also Israel cover a large part of their water needs from fossil groundwater reservoirs. However, these filled millennia ago, when the climate of the region was even wetter. The worst scenario would be that these reserves are used up in already a few decades. Thus, precautions and countermeasures should be taken now to ensure further and sustainable water supply in these countries.
India, a country with more than 1.3 billion inhabitants, has also been struggling for decades with an ever-increasing water shortage threat especially for farmers but also for people in the cities and the economy as a whole. This water shortage is likely to worsen in the coming years with a resulting backlog in water technology and infrastructure becoming even bigger. According to the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, an Indian non-profit research institute, every Indian had access to up to 5,200 cubic meters of water per day in 1951. In 2010, however, this figure was only 1,600 cubic meters and, according to recent forecasts, it will drop below 100 cubic meters in the next 30 years. The reason for the threatening water shortage in India is the rapidly growing population, the extremely water-intensive agriculture, the inefficient and often corrupt transport of water reserves and, above all, the ailing water infrastructure, which is responsible for high water losses throughout the country. Efficient irrigation systems, such as those already produced by some companies today, could be a first step towards actually reducing water scarcity in India.
The biggest water consumer is the agriculture sector which consumes about 70% of the water which is used all over the world. In order to guarantee food security in the coming decades, consider that by 2050 the world’s population is expected to increase by up to three billion, certain long term measures must be taken. These measures range from reducing losses in food production to reprocessing the water. This will require technologies from companies that already today specialize in water technology. Above all, the focus will need to be more on intelligent irrigation technology to meet rising demand.
Population growth is progressive, and with that the ever-increasing desire for altered dietary habits. Especially Asia and Africa adapt more and more to the western lifestyle, which is very water intensive. Climate change also causes rising water investments. The World Bank predicted in 2010 that as a result of a 2-degree increase in temperature, between 2020 and 2050, up to $20 billion will have to be invested annually in water-supply measures. So does the climate change additionally worsen the world water shortage and especially the urgent need for water in the agriculture sector. Researchers have just predicted that people in Africa and India will be the most affected by an increase in temperature in the 21st century if countermeasures are not being taken in 2018 and beyond.
Looking at the sheer water infrastructure, things does not get better. In the western states, no major public investment in water infrastructure has been made for many years. Here, the rehabilitation and modernization of an inefficient and outdated infrastructure in the coming years is urgently needed. Nearly 30 million liters of water seep into the soil every day. The waterworks are outdated and in need of renovation. Large parts of the water infrastructure in the US are over 100 years old, some even over 200 years. That’s why the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that $138 billion will be invested annually in the next few years in the much-needed modernization of American water infrastructure. The OECD estimates that more than $40 trillion will have to be spent on expanding and maintaining the entire infrastructure between 2010 and 2030 worldwide. The highest demand here is the water sector with an annual investment of $900 billion, followed by road construction with $270 billion and energy supply of $210 billion. China’s government, for example, announced in 2011 that it would invest around $ 580 billion in water supply and treatment by 2021.
The reliable supply of drinking water is one of the key tasks of the 21st century. Around the water and its treatment processes, a billion-dollar market has meanwhile developed. Given the scarcity of this resource, the fast-growing world population and also the climate change, water should continue to gain economic importance in the coming years.