It’s one of Earth’s most precious commodities – and free to anyone who can catch a raindrop. But, as is often the case, it’s not as easy as that – the trick is in the supply…
Water, water everywhere…
Fresh water accounts for just 1% of the water on Earth. The majority, 97%, is salty, while around 2% is frozen in the polar ice caps. Most bottled water is spring water, which comes from an underground source.
Let’s stick together
H2O is sticky. The hydrogen atoms of one water molecule are attracted to the oxygen atom of another. These bonds make water hard to compress. It is this quality that allows water to move in its ‘sticky’ form when pumped under pressure into homes.
Water use has been increasing worldwide by about 1% a year since the 1980s, driven by population growth, socioeconomic development and changing consumption patterns. Its use is predicted to rise at this rate until 2050.
More than two billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress. Around four billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year, according to the UN’s World Water Development Report 2019.
Cape Town, South Africa declared a water emergency in 2018 after a prolonged drought. It calculated it had 90 days until it ran out of water for its four million people. It averted disaster by diverting water for agriculture to the city.
Price of water
In January 2019, Nasdaq, VelesWater and WestWater Research launched the Nasdaq Veles California Water Index (NQH2O), deemed the ‘first of its kind water index’, to benchmark the price of water in the US state.
Countries from India to Spain and Angola regularly face severe water shortages, and ship in supplies. Drought-hit Australia has turned to sea water desalination to secure drinking water for its coastal cities.
Studies done by the US Natural Resources Defense Council have found contaminants in bottled water such as arsenic and phthalates. Plastic water bottles are increasingly under attack for adding to pollution in the oceans.
What They Say
“Not all chemicals are bad. Without hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer”
Dave Barry, American journalist
“The general trend [for climate change] all over the world is areas that are dry become more dry and areas that are wet become more wet”
Christian Rynning-Tonnesen, CEO of Norwegian renewable electricity generator Statkraft AS, (as told to Bloomberg)
“We see the NQH2O as an important first step to understanding water as a commodity, which means a more transparent and accessible marketplace for all”
Lance Coogan, CEO of Veles Water
Climate change is predicted to exacerbate droughts and water shortages, as the tide of demand keeps rising. Costs for water as a commodity depend on its regional availability and how it is supplied. For example, coastal areas and richer nations have relied more heavily on desalination, while water piped to residential areas is generally cheaper than water supplies delivered in tankers for communities that are off the grid. Awareness of the importance of secure and sustainable water supplies is growing all the time, as are new ways to deliver it. This includes alternatives for plastic bottles, such as edible water pods made from seaweed (a new product handed out as part of a trial at the 2019 London Marathon). While the planet’s future relationship with water remains complicated – in terms of conservation, supply and delivery – one thing is simple: innovation is key.