On the water front // Ben FrankelOn the water front // by Ben Frankel: UN secretary-general says "Water is running out"

Published 25 January 2008

Serious water shortages are afflicting ever-larger swaths of the globe, with global warming exacerbating the problem; there are 192 countries in the world, with a population of nearly 6 billion: Experts say that in 102 of these countries — with a combined population of 3.9 billion — water-related crises create a high risk of violent conflict; there are opportunities here for investors and technology companies

Readers of the Daily Wire know that we run a few stories every month on water issues — indeed, we have even created a section called “On the water front” to highlight these stories. The reason is straightforward: Water for drinking and agriculture is fast becoming major problem in vast areas of the globe. Global warming exacerbates the problem and hastens the day when it will assume crisis proportions (in several countries, water shortages are already of crisis proportions): Already-dry regions of the world become even drier, while those areas relying on seasonal melting of mountain ice caps to fill lakes, rivers, and reservoirs see their water supply shrink every year as the ice caps disappear. We believe that water — water production, water treatment, water conservation, water supply — is the next big thing on the business and technology frontier, immediately behind alternative energy (as Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical, the world’s second largest chemical company, puts it: “[Water] is the oil of this century”). Water problems are envisioned to become so severe so soon, that the Pentagon last year commissioned a study about the impact growing water shortages will have on U.S. national security. We highlight these points because our readers know that the unofficial motto of the Daily Wire is: “You show us a security need and we will show you a business opportunity.” Investors and technology companies could do worse than begin to concentrate on water as business.

We are glad to see that the UN agrees. Yesterday, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon urged the world to put the looming crisis over water shortages at the top of the global agenda this year and take action to prevent conflicts over scarce supplies. He reminded business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum that the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan was touched off by drought — and he said shortages of water contribute to poverty and social hardship in Somalia, Chad, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Colombia, and Kazakhstan. “Too often, where we need water we find guns instead,” Ban said. “Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon.” He said a recent report identified forty-six countries with 2.7 billion people where climate change and water-related crises create “a high risk of violent conflict” and a further fifty-six countries, with 1.2 billion people “are at high risk of violent conflict.” The report was by London-based International Alert, an independent peacebuilding organization based in London.

Ban told the VIP audience that he spent 2007 “banging my drum on climate change,” an issue the Forum also had as one of its main themes last year. He welcomed the focus on water this year saying the session should be named: “Water is running out”: “We need to adapt to this reality, just as we do to climate change,” he said. “There is still enough water for all of us — but only so long as we can keep it clean, use it more wisely, and share it fairly.” Ban said he will invite world leaders to “a critical high-level meeting” in September to focus on meeting UN development goals — including cutting by half the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015, particularly in Africa.

Ban’s call for global action on water got strong support from several top business executives. “Water is today’s issue,” said Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical, the world’s second largest chemical company. “It is the oil of this century, not a question.” E. Neville Isdell, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola, said “this is an issue which ranks next to climate change. … However, water has got lost as part of the climate change debate.” Isdell urged the world to “raise the issue of water to the level that we have managed to raise the issue of climate change.” Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman and CEO of Nestle, the world’s biggest food and drink company, said “time is still on our side but time is running out, just like water is running out.”

Ban urged top business executives to join a UN project to help poor people gain access to clean water — and he praised Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, and Nestle for their programs and their efforts to be part of the water solution.