GLOBE-Net, June 27, 2012 - The answer to
the question above boils down to numbers in the final
With more than half of the world's population already based in
urban areas the additional demand for core services such as water
is overtaxing capacities for water supply and disposal in many of
the world's larger cities.
And the problem is only going to get worse. The proportion of
the world's population that will be based in urban areas,
particularly in developing economies, is set to grow even more over
the next two decades.
Water quality in many of these urban areas is already suffering
due to huge volumes of sewage and industrial and agricultural
wastes (much of it untreated), that is being discharged into the
available water systems. As well, it is estimated that upwards of
30 per cent of water supplies in many of the world's major cities
is lost due to leakage.
Water Demand is growing faster than supply
Projections suggest that up to two thirds of the world's
population may be affected by water stress over the next two
decades and without massive improvements in water-use efficiency,
countries such as India and China will have huge water
Within a single generation, recent
studies show, water demand in many countries will exceed supply by
an estimated 40%, with one-third of humanity having half the water
required for life's basics.
In flood-prone places, meanwhile, catastrophic flood events
normally expected once a century - similar to those recently
witnessed in Pakistan and Australia - can now be expected every 20
Climate change is also a contributing factor to pending water
shortages. Prolonged drought conditions consistent with the impacts
of climate change are already evident in Beijing, Southwestern
North America (i.e. Mexico City, Los Angeles, etc.) and in urban
areas of Southeast Australia.
(See GLOBE-Net article "How will climate change affect cities? New look at
vulnerable waterways for key U.S. cities.")
As a result, many water-exposed companies are increasingly
tracking their water consumption and where possible, cutting back
on water needed for product manufacturing and
Smarter Water Management
Smarter water management has become the new imperative in terms
of ensuring that available water supplies are used wisely and
reused appropriately wherever possible.
Better water management has become particularly essential in the
food and drink, chemicals and pharmaceutical sectors, not only to
prevent contamination of area aquifers, but also to ensure the
continued availability of clean water supplies.
All industries are affected in one way or another by increasing
demands for water. Says Nicholas Parker, Chairman of Cleantech
Group: "What people don't often realize is how much water there is
in everything we make and buy, from t-shirts to wine."
"Virtual water" is a term that describes the volume of water
"embedded" in a product during its production. "A desktop computer,
for example, requires 1.5 tonnes (1,500 litres) of water; a pair of
denim jeans up to 6 tonnes; a kilogram of wheat 1 tonne; a kilo of
chicken 3 to 4 tonnes; a kilo of beef 15 to 30 tonnes."
Smarter water management means that water systems are
increasingly being instrumented, integrated and intelligent. It
means that data is gathered constantly on such issues as water
quality, leakages in the water distribution system, how water is
being used, where water can be safely re-used, etc.
Water utilities are also facing
increasing pressures from governments not only to improve the
quality of water provided, but also to ensure greater equity in
terms of availability of clean and safe water to all segments of
the population - rich and poor alike.
Such smarter water management is generating a fast-growing need
for technologies and services to discover, manage, filter,
disinfect and/or desalinate water, to improve infrastructure for
water distribution, and to reduce water consumption by households,
industry and agriculture, the biggest water user by far at 71%
For the most part the water technology industry has outperformed
most others over the past decade in part due to strong growth
- The demand for fresh water is growing twice as fast as
- There is an increasing dependence on non-renewable aquifers for
- Accelerated industry consolidation is underway in key
water-related sectors (regional water supply utilities, water
treatment sectors, and suppliers of water conservation
- Ongoing investment in conservation; and
- A growing recognition that water issues are a limiting factor
for profitability and survival in a wide range of industries.
Businesses and investors have been drawn into the market by these
factors as well as by population growth; rising water consumption
per capita; aquifer depletion; increasing scarcity of supplies of
fresh water; and climate change.
Putting a dollar value on the costs and potential profits
associated with maintaining urban water systems is a speculative
venture at best.
The Alliance for Water Efficiency pegs the
size of the total global water market at US$360 billion, and
forecasts it to rise to US$1.6 trillion in 10 years. Much of this
market is concentrated in or near urban centers.
Within this macro estimate are numerous sub-markets for pumps,
filters, purifiers, meters, and assorted treatment systems that
span many markets and regions.
Changing cities to save water
One of the more profound implications of the growing scarcity of
clean urban water is the impact it is having on urban form and
For cities as for people, water is the
lifeblood for survival. Extending the analogy, the challenge for
creating more water-sustainable cities ranges from micro-scale
"green" buildings, subdivisions, or "eco-blocks" to macro-scale
eco-cities and ecologically reengineered urban
The associated business opportunities involve wastewater
treatment and transportation systems for domestic, industrial and
municipal effluents and storm water; water treatment technologies,
including wastewater reuse and recycling; water distribution
systems; technologies that track water pollutants; hazardous wastes
monitoring and control; and management systems that cover all
aspects of water quality protection.
This brings us back to our original question: Who used your
water yesterday? New systems for recycling wastewater from
domestic activities such as laundry, dishwashing, and bathing are
indeed becoming commonplace in many cities. Apartment builders and
designers must adapt to new rules that reuse water for other
on-site uses such as landscape irrigation or constructed
Using reclaimed water that has been treated and recycled for use
in agricultural or landscape irrigation, in industry and for
non-drinking water purposes in urban areas is widespread in Europe.
Such reclaimed water is also being released into rivers to
boost water flows, which could help European rivers in water scarce
areas achieve an improved ecological status.
Households and industrial consumers can look forward to
increasingly expensive water and more restrictions on water use and
By and large, this will be a small price to pay for the
certainty that the water one uses today is safe given that it was
used by someone else yesterday.