You turn on the faucet, and-voila-you have a drink of water! Those of us who come from western nations tend to take water for granted. However, after a few years in Israel, we appreciate the fact that whatever water we receive is a gift. The media is filled with reports about how the world is running low on crude oil, but not too much attention is paid to the growing water crisis.
Water as an Investment
As abundant as it appears to be, only about 20% of the global population has access to running water. Additionally, only one-third of the world’s population has access to clean water. In fact, many estimate that in 40 years, more than four billion people, half the world’s population, will be living in areas that are chronically short of water. Moreover, economic development has placed greater pressure than ever on the supply of fresh water. In 1900, the global annual water use per capita was 350 cubic meters. In 2000, that number had grown to 642 cubic meters. In the United States alone, the demand for water has tripled in the past 30 years, while the population has grown by just 50%.
China, Africa and the United States
The need to increase access to clean water around the world has led some to call water the “oil” of this century. As the world becomes more and more developed, wealthy countries will not only be able to afford, but will also have a moral obligation to provide this basic necessity to their citizens. China and India, which are experiencing economic booms right now, are therefore investing hundreds of billions of dollars in improvements to their water infrastructure, while many sub-Saharan African countries that are beginning to show signs of economic growth will soon need to begin to provide basic resources to their population. All three of these examples, are huge populations that are in their infancy when it comes to the basic needs of their citizens. They have been steeped in poverty for decades, and they are emerging only now. As such, they need to start from scratch, which means access to water and building roads.
In terms of the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to $1 trillion will have to be spent on upgrading U.S. water infrastructure over the next few years. Much of the country’s aging infrastructure is more than 100 years old and is in a state of utter disrepair. In the United States alone, the network of drinking water pipes extends more than 700,000 miles - more than four times the length of the National Highway System. This all adds up to the need for new reservoirs, better water canals and more efficient irrigation systems. Israel happens to be a global leader in the innovative technology needed for making such repairs.
While many experts believe that there will never be substitutes for water, I tend to take a much more optimistic view of things. All kinds of technologies are being created to tackle the issue before it turns into a crisis. If we were to fast-forward 50 years, I am sure that we would be shocked at the technological advances made. Investors should speak with their financial advisers to see what options are available to invest in the water industry.