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Report Warns of Rising Water Demand

November 23, 2009

[Source: Robert P. Walzer for The New York Times]

A report on global water resources released Monday said that governments must address booming water demand or face grave human, environmental and economic consequences.

“Water needs to rise up the totem pole of political discourse,’’ said Giulio Boccaletti of McKinsey, the consulting firm that wrote the report, during a press conference. “We need to stop flying blind in making decisions about water without a map on the table.’’

The report, Charting Our Water Future, says that that in 20 years, water demand will be 40 percent higher than it is today, and more than 50 percent higher in the most rapidly developing countries. Historic rates of supply expansion and efficiency improvement will close only a fraction of this gap.

Closing the future “water gap” will cost $50 billion to $60 billion per year of investment by expanding measures already being taken in some communities to boost efficiency, augment supply, or lessen the water-intensity of the economy.

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of Nestlé, said he expected the report to “de-emotionalize’’ the issue of water management by simply laying out facts in clear terms.

Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe said that water’s value is not adequately reflected in its cost. He emphasized that access to clean water was a human right, but that “it’s not a human right to wash your car, fill up your swimming pool and water your golf course.’’

He said South Africa has an example of a sustainable water policy in which households are entitled to 6,000 liters, or about 1,500 gallons per month of free water, after which they must pay.

He also pointed to what he clearly considered an absurdity: that it takes 9,100 liters of water to make one one liter of biodiesel fuel.

“We don’t give value to the most precious resource we have on earth,’’ Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe said.

The report said that under an average economic growth scenario and if no efficiency gains are assumed, global water requirements would grow from 4,500 billion cubic kilometers today to 6,900 billion by 2030.

The challenge to reduce use is closely tied to agriculture, which accounts for 71 percent of global water withdrawals today.

Centers of agricultural demand — also where some of the poorest subsistence farmers live — are primarily in India, Sub-Saharan Africa and China.

Industrial water withdrawals account for 16 percent of today’s global demand, with growth primarily from China, which alone accounts for 40 percent of the additional industrial demand worldwide, the report said.

Demand for water for residential use will decrease as a percentage of total, from 14 percent today to 12 percent in 2030, although it will grow in specific basins, especially in emerging markets.

Much of the world’s growing demand comes from the developing world.

The study was was sponsored by the companies Coca-Cola, Barilla, New Holland Agriculture, Nestlé, SABMiller, Standard Chartered Bank and Syngenta, with backing from the World Bank.

 

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