The Next Oil

Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s statement that the wars of the 21st century will be fought over water may strike you as absurd. Perhaps ridiculous. After all, most wars of the 20th century were fought over oil.

And our appetite for oil hasn’t slowed. All indications are that demand will rise 25% in the next 20 years. But we are actively finding ways to use less oil. And, let’s face it, we can survive without oil.

We can’t survive without water.

And our demand for it is growing. Over the last 30 years, the US population has grown 36%. But our water demands have tripled. And experts say global demands will double every 20 years.

While our attention has been focused on the world’s shrinking oil supplies, the fact is that, unless drastic measures are taken, we will run out of water much sooner.

That’s because even though 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water, only 2.5% of that is fresh water. And a scant 1% or so is fit for human use. The remaining 1.5% is in glaciers and ice caps.

We are lucky here in the US to have a fairly consistent supply of fresh water. We can turn on the faucet whenever we want, and it’s there. We can shower and use the toilet. It is estimated that each one of us uses an average of 70 to 100 gallons of water every day.

But even in this country, we are starting to face critical shortages. Just a few weeks ago, for example, the reservoirs that provide water to the city of El Paso were on the verge of running out. For at least 24 hours, residents were asked not to shower, wash dishes or clothes, or do anything else that uses large quantities of water. Restaurants were asked to shut down early, and car washes and laundromats were told to close immediately.

Meanwhile, Northern China is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years. The country may lose 2 million hectares of wheat because of it. So far, 391 small reservoirs and 366 rivers have dried up.

Water shortages affect the entire world.

An estimated 1 billion people don’t have access to clean drinking water. Another 2.4 billion have “stressed” water conditions. At the rate things are going, by 2025 nearly one-third of the global population won’t have adequate drinking water. And by 2030, one-half will face a “fresh water deficit.”

Climate change is the cause of some of the problems. But some of it is our fault. People want to live in the desert – in cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas. This requires massive amounts of water to be drawn from other areas.

But the main reason our water supply is threatened is simply population growth. As the global population increases, so does the demand not only for drinking water but for food. And this increases the demand for water to grow the food.

Dietary changes play a major role as well. Look at China, for example. More and more Chinese are adopting a Western diet, which means they eat more meat. And that increases China’s water demands dramatically. To grow 1 kg of rice takes approximately 1,550 liters of water. But to “grow” 1 kg of beef takes between 50,000 and 100,000 liters of water.

Water demands are going to be a global issue for years to come. But there is hope. Technology can help alleviate some of the problems.

Tomorrow, I will tell you how you can make 50%-100% over the next few years on companies that provide the solutions.