Catastrophic floods, similar to those recently witnessed in Pakistan and Australia that are normally anticipated once a century, can now be expected every 20 years instead, warn scientists.
On the other hand, recent studies show, water demand in many countries will exceed supply by an estimated 40 per cent within a single generation, with one-third of humanity having half the water required for life’s basics.
Climate change, which is one of the least attractive topics for policy makers, has emerged as a major challenge to livelihood of millions of people. There is dire need to involve reputed scientists to help countries brace for drought, flood and unsafe water problems looming on a 15 to 20 year horizon.
The anticipated crises create a fast-growing need for technologies and services to discover, manage, filter, disinfect and/or desalinate water, improve infrastructure and distribution, mitigate flood damage and reduce water consumption by within a single generation, households and industry- the biggest water user by far at 71 per cent worldwide.
“Climate change will affect all societies and ecosystems most profoundly through the medium of water but there is no other way to generalize the crises ahead. At unpredictable times, too much water will arrive in some places and too little in others,” says Zafar Adeel, Chair of UN Water, which coordinates water-related efforts of 28 United Nations organisations and agencies. He is also Director of the United Nations University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health.
“Water is a local issue demanding responses tailored to specific locations. Sadly, most communities, especially in developing countries, are ill-prepared to adjust to looming new realities. Canadian expertise in water management is greatly needed.”
“Canadians, who were blessed with abundant resource of freshwater, can do well by doing good,” he adds. If the prediction of a $1 trillion water industry in 2020 proves correct (it is estimated today at $400 billion per year), it would be about one-fifth as large as today’s global $4.5 trillion construction industry.
“We need to brace for what could easily be humanity’s greatest short-term challenges,” says Margaret Catley-Carlson, a former senior official with both the Canadian government and at the United Nations, a renowned global authority on water issues, and a CWN director.
She cites US-led research that, by 2030, global water demand will be 40 percent greater than today’s “accessible, reliable, environmentally sustainable supply,” which constitutes a fraction of the absolute raw freshwater available in nature. Filling the gap with supply-side measures only, however, requires an estimated $200 billion per year; an approach that both raises supply and lowers demand would require $50 to $60 billion.
Says Nicholas Parker, Chairman of the Cleantech group: “What people don’t often realise is how much water there is in everything we make and buy, from t-shirts to beverages.” “Virtual water” describes the volume “embedded” in a product during its production. A desktop computer, for example, requires 1.5 tonnes (1,500 litres) of water; a pair of denim jeans up to 6 tonnes; a kilogram of wheat 1 tonne; a kilo of chicken 3 to 4 tonnes; a kilo of beef 15 to 30 tonnes.”
Annual global trade in “virtual water” today is said to exceed 800 billion tonnes, the equivalent of 10 Nile Rivers.
And the financial world is looking ahead to the bottom-line impacts of a water-constrained world. Institutional investors managing tens of trillions of dollars are pointedly asking businesses for data about their vulnerability to potential water supply difficulties.
As many as 300 eminent scientists, policy-makers, economists and other stakeholders have gathered in Ottawa, Canada on Monday, February 28, 2011, for an international conference hosted by the Canadian Water Network, showcasing latest world research findings as well as proven news tools, ideas and best practices for optimizing water management in short-supply scenario.
“Canada’s relatively abundant water supply will surely be an asset in future as precious as oil was in the 20th Century,” says Mr. Parker. “It must be managed carefully to ensure it can be harvested sustainably in perpetuity, supporting the well-being of all members of the world community.”