'Huge' water crisis highlighted at global forum
by Daniel Mason
The number of deaths resulting from a lack of sanitation and clean water is "unacceptable" and the international community has a duty to tackle the problem, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said today.
He was speaking at the opening of the sixth World Water Forum in Marseille. As many as 20,000 participants from 140 countries – including policymakers, corporations and non-governmental organisations – are expected at the six-day event, which is organised by the World Water Council and has taken place every three years since 1997.
Fillon said the global water crisis and the potential for future shortages was "huge" and the problems "deep-rooted". He added: "The number of human beings who have no access to clean water is in the billions. Each year we mourn millions of dead from the health risks that this causes. This situation is not acceptable."
In separate reports published to coincide with the forum, the United Nations and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development highlighted the depth of the problem. The OECD estimated that demand for water would increase by 55 per cent by 2050, when 40 per cent of the global population would live in areas suffering severe water stress. The UN predicted that farmers would require 19 per cent more water by 2050 to meet the rising demand for food – with agriculture already accounting for 70 per cent of worldwide freshwater use. The study also suggested that 44 million Europeans would be affected by water scarcity by the 2070s.
Meanwhile the International Committee of the Red Cross drew attention to the plight of those whose lack of access to clear water is compounded by armed conflict and violence. "We're seeing some worrying cause and effect trends leading to increased vulnerability and violence," said Michael Talhami, the ICRC's regional water and habitat adviser for the Middle East, in a press statement. Population growth and climate change are among the factors that have led to greater competition for scarce resources and increased tensions, he said.
Jean-Philippe Dross, head of the ICRC's water and habitat, added that it was "bad enough to be thirsty and hungry" but "another thing altogether to be thirsty, hungry and living with the threat of violence". He said: "For those of us who are lucky enough to turn on the tap and take a hot shower every morning, it's almost impossible to imagine what it's like to be displaced by fighting and living under a tree in the drought-stricken Sahel or to be trapped in an embattled city like Homs, unable to move about in search of food or water."
Elsewhere in Marseille, the Alternative World Water Forum is also taking place this week, run by civil society groups who believe the World Water Council's event is merely a "mouthpiece for transnational companies and the World Bank". The organisers said in a statement: "Water cannot be solely determined by politicians, financiers and technicians. Every woman and every man, whatever his responsibilities, must take part in decision-making, contributing to the protection of water and ensuring fair access to it."
Obama - Cameron: "As two of the world's wealthiest nations, we embrace our responsibility as leaders in the development that enables people to live in dignity, health and prosperity." Loïc Fauchon, President of the World Water Council, launched the 6th World Water Forum this week, with an opinion on what needs to be provided for 'people to live in dignity, health and prosperity', when he said: "First and foremost, energy and water so they can finally pull themselves out of poverty."
The developing world is now, and will be for a couple of decades to come, spending billions or maybe trillions on coal fired power stations. And who can blame them, with 40,000 people per day dying from preventable diseases, for the sake of affordable energy and potable water? Coal-fired power stations use and contaminate vast volumes of fresh water to cool the waste heat from the steam turbines used to generate electricity. This heat, containing nearly two thirds of the heat from the coal, is truly wasted.
In the 1950s and 1960s, while the UK trod a path to a nuclear technology dead end, the US administration withdrew funding to technological development of Molten Salt Breeder Reactors in what is surely the 'Saddest Accident of History'. MSBRs, now known as Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, use gas turbines to drive the electrical generators and the 'waste' heat from these (just over half of what the reactor produces) is at a high enough temperature to desalinate water. So, nothing is 'wasted'; huge volumes of potable water can be produces from brackish ground water or sea water - and the cost is next to nothing.
The heads of state of the developing world must urgently liaise to get the first-of-a-kind LFTR up and running, for a piddling amount of money. This will get investment stimulated to the point that venture capitalists and fund managers are knocking the door down to get into the most essential technology of the 21st century. In the days of slide rules and compasses, when all machining and planning was done manually, the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment was funded in 1960, switched on in 1965 and ran for many thousands of full power hours until 1969. The MSRE was two thirds of what a LFTR is, so in these days of CAD/CAM, computerised 3D modelling and planning, with the right will, a LFTR could be ready for action in five years. Within not much more than a decade, we could have factory built, transportable modular units coming off production lines. Their safety is inherent and their 'greenness' unrivaled.
Colin Megson - Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK. Retired engineer