World With More Phones Than Toilets Shows Water ChallengeRandall Hackley
There are more mobile phones on Earth than clean toilets, one of the most vexing challenges facing governments on the 20th anniversary of the United Nations’ World Water Day.
Solving that developmental dilemma has confounded leaders, some of whom met today in The Hague to discuss water cooperation. There are 6 billion mobile phones, according to the International Telecommunication Union, while 1.2 billion of the planet’s 7 billion people lack clean drinking water and 2.4 billion aren’t connected to wastewater systems.
The most vulnerable -- whether in China, India or sub-Saharan Africa -- may be the young that must survive poor-quality or insufficient water while supplies are overused in other countries such as the U.S., said Maxime Serrano Bardisa, a water analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance in London.
An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing-country slum uses for an entire day, according to BNEF.
Statistics show at least one in three people don’t have a toilet. More people die from diseases caused by not having a clean, safe place to go to the bathroom than from HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Almost three-quarters of all diseases in India are caused by water contaminants.
“One of the biggest reasons for child mortality is water sanitation, we are still very underserved when it comes to water sanitation facilities,” Andreas Lindstrom, program manager at the Stockholm International Water Institute, said at a conference in Vina del Mar, Chile. “It’s still more risky to go to the bathroom in many countries than any other activity.”
The world’s population is three times larger now than it was in 1950. In the past 40 years, water use has doubled, Karla Canavan of Bunge Environmental Markets told the Prana Sustainable Water conference today in Geneva.
With fresh water unevenly distributed across the world, businesses from beverage companies to power utilities and the agricultural industry face challenges securing access to the resource, BNEF’s Serrano Bardisa said.
Increased water consumption and failure to manage the resources available may have “significant” economic impacts, according to Paul Street, director of sustainable solutions at Black & Veatch Ltd., an infrastructure company. “Water is central to our well-being and prosperity, and it is finite.”
Ninety gallons of water are needed to grow 1 pound of corn and 40 barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil, Street said. It takes 3,000 gallons of water to make a quarter-pound burger, Black & Veatch data show. The average water footprint per calorie for beef is 20 times larger than for cereals and starchy roots.
The nexus of food, energy and water is the most important water issue, SIWI’s Lindstrom said.
“It’s not only providing basic services,” he said. “If we continue to consume the way we do, we will not have the water to cater to all these different needs.”
Xylem Inc., the water company spun off by ITT Corp. in 2011, has urged the U.S. Congress to make protecting national water and wastewater infrastructure a priority.
“An important step would be enactment of legislation to provide additional financing mechanisms to address the water infrastructure funding gap, which currently stands at an EPA-estimated $500 billion,” Gretchen McClain, chief executive officer of the White Plains, New York-based company, said this week.
Congress should study proposals to create an infrastructure bank, expand use of water project private activity bonds and renew the State Revolving Loan Funds, McClain said.
There’s a growing market for so-called smart technologies designed to operate water systems more efficiently. In Mumbai, India’s most populous city, smart meters have reduced water losses by half, according to manufacturer Itron Inc. The emergence of such equipment is “the most exciting thing in the industry today,” said former Wall Street analyst Debra Coy of Svanda & Coy Consulting.
China, the largest energy consumer, needs increasing amounts of water to produce electricity as its economy grows. Using coal to generate almost 80 percent of the country’s power requires large volumes of water to remove impurities and produce steam in electricity plants, yet many of China’s planned coal bases are in water-deprived northwestern regions.
“It says a lot that it is water, not oil, which may eventually prove the most valuable liquid in the Chinese economy,” said Neil McDougall, executive chairman of Modern Water Plc.
Water “must become a key consideration in planning our energy future,” Philippe Benoit, head of the International Energy Agency’s energy-efficiency and environment division, said today in Geneva.