Dr. Eva Busza is vice-president of research and programs at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, and former director of policy and strategic planning for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Last summer, as drought spread across Western Canada, water was the conversation of the day. Restaurants began providing glasses only on demand, strict watering restrictions were imposed and we heard a lot about innovations like smart shower heads.
Six months later, after decent rains and snowfall, Canadian public attention has died down, but the underlying problem of diminishing supply remains. As savvy futures investors have already realized, water is going to be the new “peak oil.”
The threat of impending severe and widespread water stress is particularly high in the Asia-Pacific region, with a population of 4.3 billion that generates one-third of the world’s GDP. Today, 97 per cent of the region’s population in urban areas and 87 per cent of its population in rural areas lacks access to improved water.
A new study by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology projects that because of climate change, Asia’s “thirsty” economic growth trajectory and its projected population growth, one billion more people there will become water-stressed by 2050.
This has huge implications for global growth and stability. According to UNESCO, more than 80 per cent of global employment is dependent on access to an adequate supply of water and related services.
Agriculture and food production, forestry, wood products, pulp and paper, inland fisheries, mining and resource extraction, power generation, textiles, rubber, plastics, and electronics are heavily or moderately dependent on it. Couple this with Pacific Institute research showing that water has been the source of 33 incidents of conflict in Asia since 2000, and a disturbing picture emerges.
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