Climate change, population growth, urbanization, and different economic drivers will all increase the demand for water in the future. By 2025 and beyond, the water crisis will reach catastrophic levels. In order to create effective solutions to the water issues that may arise past 2025, people from public and private sectors must work together. The question of future water security is far too serious to be left to disputes.
On the morning of March 14, 2012, hundreds of people from all over the world gathered to attend the High Level Panel: Future of World’s Water Beyond 2025. This high level panel included eminent personalities from both the public and private sector. During the session each panelist discussed different water issues that will likely arise in the future, as well as offered different solutions for dealing with these potential water issues.
Kicking off the panel was Professor Asit K. Biswas. Professor Biswas is both the founder of the Third World Centre for Water Management as well as a leading authority on water and environmental management. He began the panel by stating that we are not going to solve the future of the world’s water issues in one session. However, we can only hope that we will exit the sixth World Water Forum with some solutions. Professor Biswas then discussed the fact that predicting the world’s water future is an extremely difficult task.
Two fundamental questions that need to be addressed when considering the future of the world’s water include:
1. How many people are we talking about? 9 billion? 10 billion?
2. What standard of living will all these people have in 2030? 40? And 50?
Unless we have the answer to these questions, it will be very difficult to predict and plan for the world’s water future. Both the population amount and the standard of living directly impacts how much water and water infrastructure is needed to support the future population, since water use rises as both population and standard of living does. However, it is very difficult to accurately predict population and development in the next 50 years because there is so much unknown.
Antoine Frerot, Veolia Environment’s Chief Executive Officer was the first panelist to offer solutions for water issues past 2025. He began with a quote by Leonardo di Vinci.
“If you don’t look ahead, you will be in trouble.”
Few would disagree with this quote when considering how precarious the world’s water future may be. Frerot explained that in 2015 the industrial demand for water would increase by 400 percent. From this projection one can see that the water crisis is not just a supply crisis, it is a crisis provoked by demand.
The Solutions Frerot offered for sustainable water include:
1. Making water sustainable by protecting existing resources from pollution
3. Attempt to control demand for water by avoiding waste. In some of the developed nations in the world more than 50 percent of the water is lost before it reaches the consumer. We must play an active part in controlling demand by individual metering and distant metering so that consumers of water can control their consumption.
4. Increase the productivity of water through efficiency in buildings, industrial processes and agriculture
Gretchen McCLAIN, President and CEO of Xylem, a water technology company, was the second panelist to offer solutions. She emphasized that we as human beings have a responsibility to help solve the issues surrounding the future of water. She addressed three key points that will help move us toward a sustainable water future:
1. We need to kick start innovation. There is a need for more innovation in water maintenance, delivery and treatment. Another need is that existing innovations must be adopted on a wide scale. Adopting these technologies will help reduce the costs that will allow us to address the longer-term issues that we may face in the future.
2. We as an industry must come together as one voice. The water industry spans many traditionally separate sectors like water and energy. This fragmentation leads to inefficiencies in design and uptake of technology. The U.S., for example, is a well-established country that takes their water for granted. We do not consider where it comes from or the energy needed to bring it to us. To be an expert in water, you need to be an expert in energy as well.
3. Education is critical. Too many people take their water for granted and people in the water sector need to be promoting outreach to communities.
José LÓPEZ, Executive Vice-President of Nestlé, expressed two areas of concern regarding water past 2025:
1. Measurement is necessary. Words and exchanging points of view will not create a difference. The difference will come from how water is extracted, how it is used, and how it is disposed. We need a very clear understanding of what direction we need to take for a sustainable water future and then develop a plan that involves measuring success.
2. We must clarify who are the responsible parties and what needs to be accomplished. The food water energy nexus is becoming a challenge in the sense of concurring activities and productivity, which need prioritization and addressing. These different stakeholders – farmers, energy producers and users, and water companies and utilities – need to be involved in integrated decision-making on a larger scale.
Another panelist,the Chief Executive Officer of Singapore’s Public Utilities Board, explained that with such a high rate of population growth, the strain on water resources will almost certainly be greater in 2025.
According to Chew, we must begin thinking of all components in the water sector as part of the greater whole. When we do this, we can actually being making progress toward creating and implementing effective solutions.Men Leong Chew
Some of the solutions Chew discussed included:
Managing storm water for flood control. This is crucial to reducing pollution in our waterways and protecting our current water supply.
- Using an integrated loop for managing wastewater will allow us to achieve our goal of reducing the impact of pollution arising from wastewater.
- Pricing water correctly to reduce waste.
- Redefine people’s relationship with water through education and advocacy.
Though I believe the solutions offered are viable and will most likely be effective, I couldn’t help but leave the session feeling a bit let down. Here we all are, hundreds of us from all over the globe, coming together to both discuss and listen to the different courses of action we can take to potentially solve the world’s water problems, and yet no legally binding commitments were made.
I’m sure every person that attended this High Level Panel left with a better understanding of what actions need to be taken in order to secure our water future, but I am not convinced that simply discussing solutions for one hour will actually solve any of the world’s current or future water problems. If the solutions proposed in this session are actually going to accomplish anything there must also to be a discussion about how to apply and commit to the proposed solutions.
Because I believe solutions without implementation and/or application are essentially useless, I left this session asking myself two primary questions. First, how will the proposed solutions actually be applied? It is one thing to say, “here is one solution to the problem,” but it is a completely different thing to describe how that solution will be implemented. The second question I asked myself was, is it realistic to think that all the solutions proposed will be applied and/or implemented by 2025?
In my own personal opinion I do believe many of the proposed solutions can be met by 2025, but not all of them. For all of the solutions offered in this session to be realized by 2025, we must develop a greater culture of responsibility where the majority of human beings around the globe use water in a responsible manner. In closing I will leave you the same way the panel’s moderator Professor Asit K. Biswas closed the session. He said that when considering current and future water concerns, we must think ahead and look to the future, and think across different areas and sectors. Having done thinking ahead and thinking across, think again. As the world’s water issues are constantly evolving, so too must our thought process for solving these problems.