This just released study ( report in PDF form) from McKinsey & Co. was undertaken for international corporations known as The 2030 Water Resources Group. It consists of: The Barilla Group, The Coca-Cola Company, The International Finance Corporation, McKinsey & Company, Nestlé S.A., New Holland Agriculture, SABMiller, Standard Chartered Bank, and Syngenta AG.
The conclusions the study draws are not surprising to those who have even a passing interest in the subject. Global demand for water has long since exceeded supply. The report shows that over a billion people don’t have access to clean water; most of them in impoverished countries.
What is shocking is the accelerating rate at which we are consuming the water we have left. According to this report in just 20 years the demand for water will be 40 percent higher than reliable, accessible supplies, and more than 50 percent higher in the most rapidly developing countries.
Since the report was undertaken in corporate interests, it should not be surprising that the looming shortage is framed in it’s impact on economics first:
If these “business-as-usual” trends are insufficient to close the water gap, the result in many cases could be that fossil reserves are depleted, water reserved for environmental needs is drained, or—more simply—some of the demand will go unmet, so that the associated economic or social benefits will simply not occur
with the secondary emphasis placed on humans.
And while it is a dry slog to read through, you will notice that same secondary emphasis on human needs and human consumption in nearly every instance. (see India Resources protests against Coca Cola) And likewise, when rights to water are discussed, it is always within a legal, corporate orientation. In the dozen or so references to the word “right” as it pertains to water, there is not one instance of Human Rights mentioned in the report.
At a later news conference, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of Nestle helpfully questioned whether the idea of water as a “human right” is useful way to frame the conversation. He seems to think that humans have a right to “about 25 liters a day”.
One article on business and economics summarized the problem neatly:
The challenge: Getting beyond the nostrum that water is a “human right” so that water, which is obviously a scarce resource, can be priced in a way that drives conservation.
I will grant that the report takes stock of a number of measures to improve efficiency of use and protection of the resource. But for whose benefit? It may be that the coming water wars may not be between countries, but between corporations and those mere humans struggling to survive.
Further reading: Seeking Alpha T. Boone Pickens Invests in Water, Should You?