Friday, 15 October 2010

Water management, desalination & private investors

Millions of people in Africa don't have water to drink every day

The Maldives may soon disappear under water

Desertification of Africa and China is underway

Pakistan suffered its most intense flooding

People die everyday because of the lack of water or its bad quality

About 66% of the Earth's surface is covered with water

This is all rather odd, isn't it? Some parts of the world are dried up whereas others are threatened by floods. We are surrounded by water, in fact here in Switzerland there is so much water that I don't feel bad taking long showers. As my friends puts it "if we don't use it here, it's all going to France".

There are the ideological solutions such as "use less water, shorter showers, don't flush the toilet, no bottled water, etc." but how is me leaving my excrements un-flushed here in Geneva going to provide water to Mali? It's not. Each and every country has to manage its water independently. For that reason, I will only talk on two ideas today: water management and desalination.

Water management: people sometimes don't realise the importance of the rain drop. While westerners complain about the rainy days because their new shoes are going to get ruined on their way to work, some cultures in less developed countries celebrate the rainy days because it implies that they will be able to water their crops and not starve during the rest of the year. In this case, managing the rainfall sounds like a good idea in case of a drought next year. Every country should build a dam - if it makes sense - and industrialised countries along with the World Bank and other organisations should help fund this type of projects more actively. I am thinking about Lebanon, where winter is (or at least use to be) very rainy - a precious advantage compared to the neighboring countries - and yet there only is one dam in the whole country (am I right?) and the rest of the water just flows all the way down to the Mediterranean sea. Good water management across the globe will enable countries to control their river flows, lakes, ice melts and rainfalls in a way that could be rather self-sufficient or if it's not it's at least a start. Financing may be the hardest part, but there's always a solution to that. Wether it comes from the government or a big International organisation or even private investors; if there's a positive outcome then money flows.

Desalination: 66% of the Earth's surface is covered in water, salty water yes, but that's still water. That's why desalination would work perfectly - the water wouldn't be of Evian quality, but it certainly is pure enough to be used in our showers, cooking, agriculture, industries, factories, etc. Israel currently has 3 operating desalination plants and is building two more - it's the country's answer to water shortage, a good one actually (as opposed to their answer for land shortage). Many countries are now considering desalination plants as a very pragmatic solution to our current water problems, Cyprus, the UK, Australia, the UAE and even Aruba has a desalination plant! Sure, it does use a lot of energy making it very expensive to run, but technology is advancing and prices will go down. Private investors who wish to make a buck should start investing in this type of companies (by debt or equity) because 1) it's going to be profitable and 2) it provides these companies with the necessary funds to use in R&D in order to find newer and more efficient ways to use the oceans' water. This would be a Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) that wealthy private clients could go for.

Private initiative can do wonders. If we manage to have private investors on board, you can be sure we'll have results: more efficient technologies, better water management companies, better water quality available on the market (delivering it to poor countries should be an International Organisation's job though).

Private money is now flowing in poverty reduction schemes thanks to microfinance. It also is taking care of our rubbish thanks to the private waste management companies such as Areva. Many green-tech companies have managed to come up with wonderful ideas thanks to private capital flowing in from investors. And it's working. Why not start including water in this successful sphere? Surely it has already started as many SRI funds offer "water" as an investment theme - but that's certainly not enough.

It's all up to us. The water is here on Earth and it's not going anywhere: let's just use our brains and we'll find a way to have it.

Overall, my point is that countries can either start managing their water efficiently and/or use desalination plants. And for the countries who have no rainfalls and no access to the ocean: relocate. I hear Australia has a lot of unused seaside land.

1 comment:

  1. i' ll start on my own: