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Water, The Issue That Dare Not Speak Its Name!

Water, the issue that dare not speak its name!

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 72) – All IMHO:

The real global environmental issue of our age is water NOT energy. Energy is an issue of cost, water of availability. Energy has substitutes, water has none.

I have been researching water issues within the built environment and frankly, I am depressed. The problem with sustainability is, it is everybody and nobodies problem. For a significant proportion of the worlds population water is not currently a problem. When I wash, I open the faucet and clean water comes out. I do not give it a second thought, water availability is not my problem….. yet. However this is not the case for millions of people around the world.

50% of global population could be living in areas of high water shortages by 2030 (Source: RICS, Modus,Sept 2015). It is currently possible to off set 40% to 50% of water demand where water harvesting is possible (Source: RICS, Modus,Sept 2015) but it requires legislation. However there is no easy fix or glory for a politician in this issue. Until water becomes most peoples problem, it will remain a “low noise” issue.

I believe water will become the geopolitical issue of our time and will displace oil in importance. How long before Pakistan and India go to war over water due to the Himalayan snow line receding, reducing runoff to key rivers? There is already tension between Egypt and Ethiopia over Ethiopia’s new dam. Some economists argue that the current Syrian conflict is a result of water shortages. 

Today, almost two-thirds of Chinese groundwater is unfit for direct human contact. (Source: China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection) Their research showed that out of 4,896 groundwater sites being monitored, 62% were found to be either bad or very bad (source: Jody Chudley, 

How long before these issues erupt into geopolitical nightmares? 

The bottom line IMHO, there are simply too many people chasing too few resources. The world population is currently ~7.2 billion and projected to peak at ~ 9 billion by 2050. 

An inconvenient truth is that developed countries use too much water. Think of suburban pools, lawn sprinklers, car washes, high flow rate faucets, rich country problems I guess. The chart below (Source: UNDP Human Development Report 2006 care of illustrates the issue. If India and China fully industrialize and grow a consumer economy that reaches say, 50% per capita of the USA’s water consumption, we are all in trouble. 

The UN states that water is a basic human right. However this is not preventing water shortages, environmental damage plus misallocation of capital and water resources. Why? Because it is everybody and nobodies problem. 

I believe everyone, particularly affluent and water abundant countries (yes you Canada) must start to value water as a scarce resource. Maybe water should be monetized and sold as a commodity? Monetizing sounds obscene but until there is an international market value allocated to water, it will be abused and treated as a free good by industry and water rich countries.

An example of monetizing a scarce resource to enable conservation is hunting in the USA. Deer, elk and bear populations are at record highs due to hunters paying for licences and tags to hunt. The animals are made valuable, hunting is regulated and conservation is paid for from the revenues. An inconvenient truth? I have never hunted in my life but it is hard not to respect the data here. 

I have no answers, only questions and concern for the future as a father. Writing this post has been cathartic, the first step in dealing with a problem is trying to understand it.

However we can take action now, we must design our buildings to consume as little water as possible plus harvest and recycle water. As individuals we should conserve water and be aware of water issues around the globe. Also lets stop throwing plastic into the ocean. 

To date, the global response to water scarcity has not been equal to the challenge yet we have technology to help and methods to harvest and recycle a significant amount of water. As individuals we need to take action so the politicians and lobbyists notice. 

Water, the scary global issue that dare not speak its name!

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