Water in the 21st Century
Access to water is seen as a fundamental human right and is taken for granted by most of us. However, due to the rapidly growing world population and the ever increasing demand, water is increasingly becoming a valuable and sought-after resource. 2/3 of the earth’s surface is covered with water. However, the following breakdown looks less promosing:
of the world’s water resources are saltwater resources
of the world’s water resources are freshwater resources
fresh water is again divided into:
of freshwater resources come from lakes and rivers
The United Nations expect that the world will use up to 40% more water in 2025 than in 2015. The growing population and changing eating habits in particular will ensure a steadily increasing demand for water over the next few decades. Additionally, the gradual improvement in the standard of living in the emerging countries means that more water will be used. The western lifestyle, which is very water-intensive, is used as an orientation. According to UNESCO, the inhabitants of the industrialized countries use around ten times as much water per day as the inhabitants of the emerging and developing countries. Since agriculture still accounts for 70% of the world’s water consumption, the increasing population and the associated rising demand for food are signs of an increasing water consumption.
Source: wrsc.org, World Resources SimCenter
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 actually receive. Neither in politics nor in society are people in charge enough dedicated to the issue even though 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 live 120 million people without regular access to clean drinking water. To overcome the global water problem, the United Nations formulated the so-called Millennium Development Goals in 2000. According to these goals, the number of people who do not have regular access to safe drinking water was supposed to be reduced by half by 2015. At the same time, access to sanitation was intended to 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. In 2021, every second person in developing countries has no access to standard sanitary equipment. However, if all humans could get access, at least 10% of all diseases worldwide could be prevented. This alone shows the possible effectiveness that could be achieved by investing in simple sanitary facilities.
Make Water, Not War
The Middle East and North Africa in particular could be heading for a threatening water shortage in the foreseeable future. Saudi Arabia, Libya, Jordan and Israel cover large parts of their water needs from fossil groundwater reservoirs. However, these were filled thousands of years ago, at times when the region’s climate was more humid. The worst scenario would be that these reserves are used up in already a few decades. Thus, precautions and countermeasures must be taken today to ensure further and sustainable water supply in these countries. Because even today there are actually armed conflicts over water reserves in the regions, which, according to Middle East experts, will get worse in the future if there is no timely response to the water shortage in the regions by means of sustainable investment measures. India has also been struggling for decades with an ever-increasing water threat to agriculture, people and the economy, which is likely to get worse in the coming years and is already leading to social unrest. According to the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, an Indian non-profit research institute, in 1951 every Indian had access to up to 5,200 cubic meters of water per day. In 2010, however, that number was only 1,600 cubic meters and will drop below 100 cubic meters by 2040 according to some forecasts. 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, as they are already being produced by some companies today, could be a first approach to sustainably reduce the water shortage in India.
The largest consumer of water is the irrigated agriculture which consumes about 70% of the water used all over the world. In order to guarantee food security in the coming decades – after all, the world population is expected to increase by up to three billion people by 2050 – certain measures must be taken today. These range from reducing losses in food and industry production to recycling water more efficiently. For this, technologies from companies that have specialized in the field of water technology will have to be deployed. Above all, the focus will have to be placed more on the area of smart and AI-based irrigation technology in order to be able to meet the increasing water demand.
Climate Change and Years of Underinvestments as additional Drivers of Water Scarcity
The population is growing steadily and so is the demand for water-intensive eating habits. Asia and Africa in particular are adapting more and more to the western lifestyle, which, however, is very water-intensive. Another aspect that has been overlooked so far, but continues to challenge the water crisis, is climate change and its effect on water supply. The World Bank predicted in 2010 that due to a rise in temperature of 2 degrees between 2020 and 2050, up to 20 billion dollars would have to be invested annually in measures for sustainable water supply
. One overlooked problem here is the worldwide melting glaciers which serve as drinking water reservoirs in many countries. However, the consequences of glacier melting for the population in individual countries and regions are enormous. The meltwater has been used as drinking water for centuries and is also used in agriculture. The consequence of the melting glaciers around the world is that the reliable and stable drinking water storage system will be eliminated with a high degree of certainty by 2050. The inhabitants of the Andes and the Himalayas are particularly hard hit.
In the western countries, however, no real major public investments have been made in water infrastructure for many years. The renovation and modernization of an inefficient and outdated infrastructure is urgently required over the next few years. Almost 30 million litres of water seep into the earth every day. The waterworks in some countries are also outdated and in need of renovation. Large parts of the water infrastructure in the USA are over 100 years old, some even over 200 years. For this reason, the American environmental protection agency (EPA) estimates that around 138 billion dollars will have to be invested annually in the urgently needed modernization of the American water infrastructure over the next few years. The OECD estimates that between 2010 and 2030 more than 40 trillion dollars will have to be invested in expanding and maintaining the entire infrastructure worldwide. The water sector has the highest demand with an annual investment volume of 900 billion dollars, followed by road construction with 270 billion dollars and energy supply with 210 billion dollars. Supplying the world population with drinking water is obviously one of the key tasks of the 21st century. That is why a billion-dollar market has developed around the topic of water. In light of the scarcity of water due to a growing world population, years of underinvestment and climate change, water is likely to continue to gain in importance economically and socially.