The world must value water or face the consequences
The prevalent cliche - that we live on the Blue Planet, surrounded by water but without enough to drink, must be common knowledge now and apparent to all but the most oblivious of policy makers.
However, a curious inertia prevails and nipping the water crisis in the bud is just not taking priority. It is the sheer helplessness of it all that I find intriguing.
It is a catch 22. Only a catastrophic event will open up people’s eyes to the problem, but by then it will be too late.
The Guardian’s Nexus debates provided a fascinating insight into the colossal and seriously worrying issue of global water scarcity.
One of the debaters, director for Stockholm Water Prize and Stockholm Industry Water Award Jens Berggren summed it up nicely: “Water is undervalued, everything we do is water.”
He was right; a barrel of oil in the ground always has a value (if fluctuating) but placing a value on that same barrel filled with water is unthinkable.
It is quite a clear formula – water is a finite resource, it doesn’t have a scarcity value to put people off from wasting it, therefore it will run out.
Put a value on water, as we do with almost every other resource on the planet however, and we might be in with a chance.
This just doesn’t look likely.
There are ways we can better manage water and these were heroically put forward during the debate.
They include for example, using renewable energy to power water treatment facilities, decentralising delivery models and utilising waste water.
Waste water, which has often been considered a problem, is increasingly being seen as a resource and there was even talk of water treatment plants being labelled as ‘green factories.’
Urban wastewater can be reused on a large scale the speakers argued, and it uses far less energy than desalination.
Energy consumption in treating water is a big issue and that is why measures like powering the process with energy generated by solar panels particularly excited the panel.
“The cost of energy for a cubic metre of water will inevitably increase, according to Gerard Payen, who is the president of Aquafed, the International Federation of Private Water Operators.
Yet despite this, Payen said he was “not so sure” if the water industry is working enough on energy reduction,” and insisted there was more work to be done.
Something else to think about is that worldwide, agriculture accounts for 70% of all water consumption, compared to 20% for industry and 10% for domestic use. So increasing water efficiency in agriculture is crucial.
The panel pointed out that talking about the issue more and having debates were a vital tool in publicising the issue and elevating it up the agenda.
While public awareness is important, what is needed is action and time is running out.
I’m not being fatalistic, but I agree with Berggren that if we don’t do anything, water has an uncanny ability of reminding us about it – usually in a bad way.