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THE IMPACT OF WATER ON THE GLOBAL ECONOMY

 

By Henry H. Goldman

           

Oil and petrochemicals were the driving political and economic forces of the twentieth century -- water has become the driving force of the twenty-first century, says Mr. Stephen Sawdon, President of Pan American Bio Technologies, a subsidiary of the Pan American Group.

Mr. Sawdon suggests that the first quarter of the new century will see severe water shortages in sensitive parts of the world.  The shortages in potable water for drinking, bathing and agriculture will come from two different, but related sources.  First, the world's climate is warming and, while that will shrink the polar ice caps, most of that water will be lost into the world's oceans and be unavailable to the world's population centers.  Further, this global warming trend also suggests that drought conditions will continue to grow in regions where clean water is already in short supply.

A second reason for the water crisis stems from the worldwide movements toward industrialization.  Mankind, in an effort to become self-sufficient, is continuing to pollute the world's rivers and lakes, as well as the oceans.  The pollutants come from at least two different sources.  Organic wastes from people and animals, and from plants manufacturing or processing foodstuffs, continue to send their waste products into sensitive ecological systems.

Some cities in developing or under developed countries have little or no sewage treatment plants.  Many lack water purification systems.  These problems can result in water borne diseases like hepatitis, cholera, typhoid, typhus and dysentery.  The United Nations estimated that, in 2000, nearly two billion of the world's six billion people, one-third, lacked access to clean water.  That number, says Mr. Sawdon, will grow to encompass at least forty percent of the anticipated population of the world by 2020 (3.2 to 4 billion people); that's only ten years away.

A second kind of danger to the world's water supply comes from the dumping of heavy metals' residues into the soil.  Heavy metals like lead and mercury are often by-products of heavy manufacturing plants.  These metals, over time, have found their way into local water tables and, thence, into the drinking supplies of nearby communities.

 There are few places in the world immune from one or both of these sources of pollution.  When these factors are added to the natural problems of severe drought and global warming, it suggests that a real water crisis may be on hand by the end of the first quarter of the century.

There are only a few international agreements about water and water sharing.  The demographics that the United Nations and the Global Environmental Conferences (i.e. Copenhagen, 2009) are projecting are, at best, discouraging.  By 2025, India will surpass China as the most populous nation on earth.  That will require large additional amounts of clean drinking water to serve the rapidly growing population of the Subcontinent.  Water access will become a major factor in international politics as the world's population grows.  Countries who share a river, for example, may be tempted to take more than their fair share of the water.  This may result in "water wars."  Consider the regional impact if the United States redirected the waters of the Rio Grande away from Mexico.  Or if Mexico tried to redirect the waters of the Colorado River away from the Sea of Cortez into the rapidly growing agricultural areas of Northwestern Mexico.

Famine will become commonplace in poor and under developed countries as a result of the growth in the world's population.

The impact on the global business community is clear: find ways to increase access to potable water, worldwide.  Companies like Pan American Bio Technologies are working in under developed countries to build water purification plants so as to provide clean drinking water to ever-larger populations.  Working with the government of the Peoples' Republic of China, Mr. Sawdon and his associates have built and are building purification systems throughout China.  His processes use microbes, in huge amounts, to cleanse the water of organic materials. That technology was proven during the Exxon Valdez disaster some twenty years ago in Alaska.

Even the United States is not immune to clean water shortages, drought and gloomy projections.  California and Texas have seen lengthy droughts since 2000, with accompanying curtailments in water usage.  Pan American Bio Technologies is working at several sites in Arkansas and Alabama to clean up water pollution stemming from large hog farms, where organic waste is regularly turned out into ponds and creeks.  Such waste finds its way into local water supplies.

In summation, accessibility to clean drinking water has already become a crisis in the new century, now ten years old.  Wars may be fought over water rights.  It is incumbent upon the global business community to make provisions for companies like Mr. Sawdon's and to recognize the importance of water politics in the near future.   


Henry H. Goldman is a Fellow of The Business Forum Institute and is the Managing Director of the Goldman Nelson Group.  Henry got his Masters Degree at the University of Iowa and did his Doctoral Studies at the University of Southern California.  He is a Certified Professional Consultant to Management (CPCM); and has published numerous articles in trade journals and was Associate Editor of Taking Stock: A Survey on the Practice and Future of Change Management (Berlin, Germany).  He is a member of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD); Association of Professional Consultants (APC) and the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC). Henry has consulted and/or offered training in South Africa, Tanzania, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Barbados, Georgia, Kosovo, Tajikistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and of course North America. He has also taught at Baker University: Lee’s Summit, MO, 2008, he was an Adjunct Professor of International Business; National Graduate School: Falmouth, MA, 2004-2008, Adjunct Professor of Quality Management; California State University: Fullerton, 2005-2006, Lecturer on Taxation; University of California: Berkeley, 2002, Adjunct Professor of Management; University of Macau (China), Adjunct Professor of Management, 2001-2003.


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