Water needs to be a globally traded commodity

The world has a water problem, and it’s all about access. There is enough water to serve the world’s population, but getting it, transporting it, and keeping it clean are increasing problems we can ill afford to ignore. In the face of shrinking food supplies, an increase in diseases and contamination, as well as climate change, a new focus on water and water-related technologies must be made clear on an international level.

It was recently World Water Week. It kicked off with the United Nations’ designated World Water Day. It’s supposed to be an internationally relevant day, with different nations taking the lead each year to host an awareness campaign. You aren’t alone if you missed this in the news; little attention has been paid to World Water Day (except you may have noticed that some restaurants in the US are charging $1 for tap water this week; that’s a part of the campaign).

The problem with World Water Week is — just like water itself — it is looked upon as a policy issue. Instead, water needs to be looked at as a business, the same as oil or coffee or any other globally traded commodity. That’s correct, water is now a commodity. And we trade a lot of it around the world, whether we know it or not. Approximately one-third of the global water supply is traded via food products.

Agriculture is the largest consumer of water in the world, accounting for 70% of its use. It is why giant food companies such as Nestle and General Mills are so concerned about the future of the world’s water supply. It’s an indelible part of their business. It’s an indelible part of our lives. It’s why we need to develop technologies and programs that track “virtual water,” or the water we trade among nations via our food products and other items that contain water. And it’s why we need to make water part of world trade negotiations.

Some activists and institutions say that water is a “right.” They believe that every person on Earth is entitled to her fair share of water just as we are entitled to air. Even if that were the case (it isn’t), distribution is the key. Make water free all you want, but if you can’t get it, it’s worthless. Just ask the billion people in the world who don’t have access to fresh water.

It’s time the UN, individual countries, and others with a vested interest in world water supplies looked at water as a business and tended to it as such.

That means, in case you missed the point, all of us. We are all shareholders in the world water business. As with any business, water needs a mission, long-term planning, and sound management. We can’t afford to let this business go bust.

So this is where the international business community can join forces with the U.N. and non-governmental organisations. Already the UN has a Global Compact division for corporations to share ideas. It can and should add water to the mix. Water shortages are an increasing risk to traditional businesses, too, especially energy companies. Take a look at the water-related issues of Japan’s nuclear power meltdowns.

Water problems will be featured at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development scheduled for June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Eco-entrepreneurs take note.

Water desalination, transportation, treatment, and sanitation can be the growth industries of tomorrow. The market is certainly big enough.

Source: MarketWatch – Thomas Kostigen’s Ethics Monitor