In Ireland we are focused on the introduction of domestic water charges. Globally however the availability of fresh water is far more serious with a dwindling supply and growing demand. Although over two-thirds of the earth is covered in water, 97% of it is salt water. Only 3% is fresh water. Of the world’s small supply of this precious resource, less than 1% is available for human consumption.
Demand for freshwater is growing twice as fast as the growth of the global population. The United Nations estimates that human consumption of water increased six-fold in the 20th century, while the population itself only tripled.
As if freshwater isn’t scarce enough, much of it is wasted due to ageing infrastructure. In the United States, up to 20% is lost to leakage. It is estimated that replacing the U.S. water infrastructure would cost between $300 billion and $1 trillion. At the current rate of investment, it would take 900 years to get the job done. Dublin is estimated to lose an even greater percentage of its fresh water supply but rather than fix the problem through infrastructure refurbishment and demand management, Water authorities want to take the easy route and drain the Shannon.
The problem affects more than just drinking water. In northwest China factories have closed because there isn’t enough water to operate them. Chinese government economists estimate that this and other environmental challenges generally shave 10% off the country’s gross domestic product every year.
Worldwide, governments and industry alike increasingly recognize that improving the water infrastructure will be critical to solving the global water crisis. Over the next five years, investment is expected to rise steadily in water infrastructure, waste water treatment, desalination, and recycling by between 6.5% and 9.4% pa.
An increase in infrastructure spending and a confluence of other issues—a finite supply of freshwater, global population growth, the modernization of developing populations and the need for technology to maximize water supplies—make water a critical area for resource development and a potential area of significant investment opportunity.