Addressing fresh water deficiency

Johan Widheden of AkzoNobel says the way we think about commodity of fresh water may ultimately have to change.

For many countries, fresh water availability is an acute concern. In some cases it is the sheer number of people in one location that is triggering the deficiency, in others it is rising sea levels due to climate change and in some situations it is a particular industry, such as cotton that is causing the problem. Because of this, over one billion people have no access to clean drinking water and two million people die annually from water-related diseases.

Most of these grave concerns are occurring in the developing world and therefore not of immediate interest to industrialised nations and international media. Ironically, it is actually the developed world that has caused many of today's problems through the purchasing of products that require enormous amounts of fresh water, such as cotton, leather or beef, and by contributing to climate change through the burning of fossil fuels. On top of this, the demand for fresh water is expected to increase by over 50 per cent by 2050. Clearly, something needs to change.

But how do we change? And do we have the necessary tools to help us value water properly across the globe? Would it be possible for example to put a differentiated price on water or should it be governed by laws and regulations?

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