Stella Thomas interview with Canadian Business Magazine on Water Investing.
Back when Aristotle experimented with desalination techniques, ancient Greece housed about 13 million people — fewer than Shanghai or Mumbai. Today, the BRIC block (Brazil, Russia, India and China) alone has a population of more than 2.8 billion people. And each and every one of them needs water to survive.
On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a huge problem since water covers much of the earth. But as Aristotle realized, most of that resource is seawater. Only 2.5% of the planet’s water is suitable for human consumption, not to mention agriculture, energy production and most industrial purposes. And available sources are being rapidly polluted and depleted as demand soars.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development, nearly half the world’s population will inhabit areas with severe water stress by 2030. Stella Thomas, executive director of the Global Water Fund, an organization working to raise awareness of the looming crisis, notes that the human race will reach more than eight billion people in a few decades, and most of the increase will take place in urban centres, where eating habits are more water-intensive than in rural communities. “A single hamburger uses 11,000 litres of water [to produce],” Thomas says. Growing a kilo of rice, on the other hand, requires less than half that amount.
Market speculators already call water “the new oil” and “blue gold.” In Texas, where the population is expected to double over the next 50 years, energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens and some partners have been scooping up water rights attached to the largest aquifer in North America. According to their company’s marketing material, they stand “ready to sell water to communities that don’t have enough for the future.”
Others in the business community aim to make money by developing innovative products and solutions that will help alleviate the supply crunch. In Singapore, Semb-corp provides advanced water treatment technology that allows residents to tap into the same water source used by Kevin Costner in Waterworld — urine. After a toilet flush is run through standard treatment facilities, a process involving micro-filtration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet waves purify the reclaimed water. Branded NEWater, the end product helps serve the demand of industries such as manufacturing. Like in many other cities around the world, Singapore’s treated waste also helps restock local drinking reservoirs. A limited supply is even available in bottles for direct consumption.