The worst drought in 30 years
Yet the statistics do not seem to bear this view out; England is currently facing its worst drought in 30 years following two exceptionally dry winters and a finer-than-usual spring. The eastern region has experienced its driest six months on record. Caroline Spelman, the Environment Minister told the National Union of Farmers in February that a drier climate for England may be the ‘new norm’. The drought has implications for food production and therefore food prices as well as wildlife and biodiversity.
Of course England has it easy compared to many parts of the world where this ‘new norm’ has even more devastating consequences. Globally, the issue of water shortages is severe and getting worse. Ten years ago, the proportion of people living in countries chronically short of water stood at 8%. By 2050, this will have risen to 45%. This alarming projection is due to a simple supply/demand imbalance: while the amount of water on the planet is finite, use of it is rising exponentially.
Soaring demand for water
The soaring demand for water is due to a combination of population growth, changing diets and improved standards of living. As people get richer, so their water usage rises. Flushing toilets, dishwashers, washing machines all use far more water than their primitive alternatives. By the time you get as ‘developed’ as the United States, water usage per capita is extreme: The average Malian draws 4 cubic metres a year for domestic use, while the average American draws 215 cubic meters a year. Swimming pools and golf courses are thirsty luxuries.
Solutions to the world’s water resource problems fall into a number of sub-sectors, one first being demand control. Water is considered by many, including industry, to be a free and abundant resource and more efficient monitoring of water usage and appropriate pricing is vital if resources are to be better conserved. Thus advanced water metering is a key investment theme for us. Upgrading meters, both for water and energy use, over the next few years in the US and Europe is a multi-billion Dollar opportunity.
Another key area of development is increasing supply to those parts of the world where it is scarce. Waterborne diseases remain the biggest cause of childhood deaths. Two thirds of people in rural China currently have no access to clean drinking water.
Desalination is an appealing option, given the fact that over 97% of the earth’s water is salty, but has been prohibitively expensive and energy intensive. Now Spain, the driest country in Europe, is using desalinated seawater to irrigate crops in certain areas.
The outlook for the water sector remains positive. Even if the heavens open in England from Witsun weekend to the August Bank Holiday, the forecast for water shortages worldwide remains threatening. Companies providing solutions to this pressing problem represent the very best sort of long term investment; good for the planet and good financially.