Last month’s World Economic Forum, “Water Security: The Water-Food-Energy-Climate Nexus,” raised questions about countries ability to create economic growth in the face of a growing water crisis. Panelists included Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of the Nestlé Group, Samantha Gross, director of IHS CERA, Upmanu Lall, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia University, Usha Rao-Monari, the global head of in the Infrastructure and Natural Resources Department of IFC, and Jeff Seabright, the vice president for environment and water resources for Coca Cola.
The forum discussed the importance of water and how it impacts energy, agriculture, business and government security. A 2003 study stated that if businesses, states and nations continued to use water at the rate they were at that time, there would be a 30% shortage in grain production and a 40% projected gap between supply and demand by 2030. This is believed to have jumped significantly in the years following even though a more recent study has yet to be conducted. The panel stated that most of the problem lies with governments and businesses not being able to implement change on the local level without sacrificing economic growth.
Yet, as Brabeck-Lesmathe stated, there remains a direct link between water, food and energy. Food security and global grain harvests depend on water. However, the population is expected to jump from 6.8 billion, today’s approximation, to 8 billion by 2025. This, in addition to climate change, will widen the gap between supply and demand, and put water scarcity at an all time high. How we use, obtain and process our water takes money, delegation and coordination. All three of which, many developing countries do not have. Larger corporations like Nestlé and Coca Cola have taken a hard look at how to give back most of the water they take and have started to implement the changes necessary to do so. Yet, because the problem is primarily concentrated locally, and the sub-national and municipal governments, which make the decisions on local water preservation, typically lack support from national governments in developing countries, the problem will likely continue. Many lesser-developed countries already use more energy taxing forms of water purification, like the nonrenewable aquifers in Jordon or the expensive water pumps used in India. Lesser-developed countries that use similar water purification mechanisms will face obstacles as they attempt to follow in the footsteps of large corporations.
The inability to keep in stride with other more wealthy nations raises questions of how less wealthy states will be viewed globally if they continue to acquire water in a less environmental way due to inadequate funds. These countries could face scrutiny from other wealthier states that have implemented more stringent water policies on the local level. What kind of image could this inability to progress create? Will lesser-developed countries be blamed? Or will the wealthier nations that do not assist them be blamed? How will the public view governments that do not engage in water preservation and what should they do to combat a negative public perception? If these states do face public scrutiny, they will need to evaluate how to better their image in while continuing to seek innovative solutions to their problems with water usage. One way to do this would be to establish good public relations by highlighting the other ways they are being environmentally conscience. It may also behoove lesser-developed countries to remind the public that they continue to search for innovative ways to cut their water usage while raising the funds to do so.