Ten Years Away and Counting: The World’s Most Serious Risk
The World Economic Forum has just released its Global Risks 2016 report of likely risks and their potential impact on the world. The report is divided into two sections: those risks that might occur in the next year to 18 months and others that may occur in the next ten years.
The report concluded that the most serious risk within the next ten years regards water: while this can include flooding, what is expected to have more impact is that hundreds of millions of people will have limited or no access to safe drinking water.
The Global Risks reports began in 2006 and water concerns have been listed on the report before, but never have they attained a top position for impact as they have in the 2016 report. Other risks were also noted such as failure to address climate change; mass migration; the spread of infectious disease; sanitation issues; and regional conflicts. Interestingly, water crises are often related and interconnected with all of these concerns.
Lack of water or safe drinking water can, for example, result in disease, sanitation issues, and migration from one area or country to another, as well as regional conflicts. In fact, this has been happening in many parts of the world for some time. But instead of being a small crisis here and there, the 2016 Report indicates that this may become a much bigger problem throughout the world.
Some of the challenges the world is facing when it comes to water include the following:
- Currently it is believed that about one billion people live in areas where water is “stressed,” usually meaning in short supply, unsafe, or not reliably available.
- About 95 percent of the earth’s underground aquifers are being used far more quickly than they can be replenished with rainwater.
- The most productive farm regions in the world are already using about 70 percent of the world’s safe water supplies; by 2050, the World Bank predicts that global food production will need to increase by 50 percent, meaning even more of the world’s water will be needed for farming.
- Some of the largest cities in the world – Jakarta, Mexico City, and even Houston, Texas — are pumping so much water from underground supplies that parts of these cities are actually sinking.
Further, this is also happening at a time when fracking, here in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, has increased tremendously. While it has reduced and potentially will eliminate our need for imported oil, one of the negatives of fracking is the amount of water the process requires: it is estimated that fracking used 250 billion gallons of water between 2005 and 2014. As more countries around the globe look to fracking to relieve their own needs for imported oil, look for this amount to grow in the future…if the water is available.
Now the Good News
While there is a lot of bad news concerning water, we must also say there is good news to report. In fact, what is often overlooked is that as a result of water efficiency efforts, large cities in the U.S., such as Los Angeles and Phoenix, are using about the same amount of water today as they did a decade ago, even though their populations have increased significantly.
Other positive items include the following:
- Due to new technologies, we can now measure more precisely how much water we are using, how fast we are using it, and even where new water sources may be available. Accurate and reliable information helps us make wiser decisions when it comes to water.
- We are finding new, cost-effective ways of treating wastewater and turning it into reclaimed water.
- Israel is the world’s leader in water desalination; in this country, California engineers are working with Israeli experts hoping to convert huge volumes of salt water from the Pacific into drinking water.
- In developed countries, the use of drip irrigation systems is growing rapidly; for many facilities, more water is used to irrigate landscaped areas around the facility than any other use. This will help reduce water consumption dramatically.
- Similarly, U.S. regulations on the amount of water toilets and urinals can use per flush have essentially been tossed out the window. Just as waterless urinals are becoming far more commonplace, toilets that use far less water than today’s toilets – even no water at all – are coming online.
As to the Report’s emphasis on water as the number one crisis in the next ten years, I must agree. But I also remain optimistic that at least when it comes to water, we will find more ways to use it more efficiently and responsibly. And I base this optimism on one thing: these changes are already under way.
Klaus Reichardt is founder and CEO of Waterless No-Flush Urinals, Vista, Calif. Reichardt founded the company in 1991 with the goal to establish a new market segment in the plumbing fixture industry with water conservation in mind. Reichardt is a frequent writer and presenter, discussing water conservation issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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