By Anthony Ricigliano – News By Anthony Ricigliano: The world may never run out of water but an increasing number of people around the world could easily face an extreme shortage of drinkable water. According to Matthew Simmons, an early proponent of “peak oil”, many of the world's largest cities, with populations of more than 10 million people, are currently facing water shortages. The list of cities facing potable water shortages includes Mexico City, Beijing, and Cairo. The World Bank recently reported that 80 countries now have potable water shortages that threaten health, sanitation, and economies and that 40% of the world’s population, approximately two billion people, have no access to clean water or sanitation.
One of the primary causes of the looming global water shortage is the steadily increasing world population. This population growth and the industrial, agricultural and individual water needs which come with it are now doubling demand for water every 21 years, according to World Bank estimates. With the global population currently at six billion and United Nations’ projections for nine billion people by 2050, the justified fear is that water supplies will not be able to keep pace with demand, as populations soar and cities explode. Water supplies will continue to tighten as countries around the world continue to develop and raise their standard of living, as well. Like oil, the United States is a huge user of water on a per capita basis at 600 liters per day. Outside the U.S., the per capita usage amounts to 50 liters a day and growing.
These shortages, combined with certain geographic considerations have the potential to fuel hostility and potential warfare over this precious resource. In fact, more than a dozen countries receive more than half of their water from rivers that cross borders of neighboring countries viewed as hostile. Of those, seven countries receive 75% or more of their fresh water from rivers flowing out of often hostile upstream neighbors. These include Botswana, Bulgaria, Cambodia, the Congo, Gambia, the Sudan, and Syria.
The Middle East, a region well-known for its political and religious animosities is now witnessing heightened tensions regarding adequate water supplies as well. Israel and Syria have had recently contentious discussions about water supplies while Iraq, Syria and Turkey have exchanged verbal threats over their use of shared rivers. It’s not hard to imagine tensions rising if one country wants to dam a river for hydroelectric purposes that a neighboring country relies on.
The scramble for solutions to the problem is growing apace. One of the more promising solutions already exists in the form of desalinization plants of which there are 11,000 in operation around the world. The biggest issue with these plants is the cost per gallon of desalinized water. The answer to the cost issue could lie in the advance of alternative energy solutions which could run the plants with renewable energy sources such as solar, tidal, wind, and/or wave power. Advances in these solutions will bring their costs down which in turn could make desalinization both a clean and cost effective proposition.