I had a terrible nightmare about the future of water and humanity.
A few months ago during the Covid-19 Pandemic, I had a horrible dream. I saw a vision of the future. And it wasn’t bright. In fact, it barred a stunning resemblance to Armageddon.
If you were to take snapshots of my dream, this is what you would see:
I didn’t alter these photos with Adobe Photoshop. I made a collage. This is reality. Water scarcity, security, sanitation and easy access to the most precious resource on the planet is a BIG problem. And it is happening at a faster pace than people realize.
Over the last two years, I traveled the world for a company I co-founded called FluidLytix. Everywhere I went, from Europe to South America to Southeast Asia to China and back, I saw the various water problems each country faces. During those travels I started thinking about how water will affect humanity as a function of climate change, population, urban and economic growth in the future.
We are concerned about how the pandemic will change our future. We worry about social injustice and inequality in the world. We worry about climate change. Well, some of us actually worry about it while others fight the scientific facts and argue whether climate change is real. The world has become more politically divided than ever. No matter where I went, I saw the struggle in ideology between the left and the right regarding politics, religion, justice, environment and you can fill in the rest.
“The real-life examples of water problems humanity faces today cannot be hidden, watered-down or manipulated politically. Let me share a few water facts and figures based ”
I don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand climate is changing. I see the evolving patterns everywhere. And most of you do as well. Whether it’s manmade or not, it’s happening. You hear various opinions regarding climate change. One of the biggest is that climate change is cyclical and not a function of human activity. I won’t get into that debate today, but the flawed and distorted logic used by anti-climatists cannot be applied to water issues. The real-life examples of water problems humanity faces today cannot be hidden, watered-down or manipulated politically. Let me share a few water facts and figures:
Today, 780 million people on this planet are living without clean water. This year 801,000 children under 5 years old will perish from diarrhea, mostly due to unclean water.
Over 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress.
It is estimated that by 2040, one in four of the world’s children under 18 – some 600 million in all – will be living in areas of extremely high water stress.
About 4 billion people, representing nearly two-thirds of the world population, experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.
A third of the world’s biggest groundwater systems are already in distress.
Nearly half the global population are already living in potential water scarce areas at least one month per year and this could increase to some 4.8–5.7 billion in 2050. About 73% of the affected people live in Asia (69% by 2050).
With the existing climate change scenario, by 2030, water scarcity in some arid and semi-arid places will displace between 24 million and 700 million people.
700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030.
Water is life.
Without access to drinkable and accessible water, we’re doomed. This problem is happening faster than climate change. The volume of water on Earth has been constant over billions of years. Because water can easily change between solid, liquid or vapor, it is more adaptable than a cockroach. It was here before the dawn of civilization; it will outlast humanity and it will be here for billions of years in the future.
Projections on the mass displacement of people due to water stress is what I envision barreling at us like a runaway train. Imagine if, over the next 10 years, 500 million people worldwide are forced to relocate because their cities have run out of water. How would that affect our global economy? How do you feed those people and quench their thirst? How do you protect them during the migration? How do you stop potential civil unrest and armed conflict? Where do you place those 500 million people? How quickly can you get water to them? Food logistics is significantly easier than water logistics. How do you keep millions of people from developing diseases during their displacement, due to lack of sanitization? How do governments agree quickly to absorb all the thirsty people? Where do they live if the infrastructure cannot support such massive migrations?
I named this horrible dream. I call it Watergeddon.
I have always seen patterns in the world. I see them everywhere I look, whether I try or not. I have consciously looked for trends in society, business and science. One pattern is clear above all others: water and humanity and where we are headed if we don’t do something fast. Water is more important to life than electricity. It is more important than money. Without water, there is no humanity. But as a society, we don’t pay enough attention to the water problems because we assume that water is a human right.
In 2016, Bill Gates warned the world to prepare for a potential pandemic. Nobody listened. Globally, we were unprepared. A similar situation could happen with water, where we saw all the signs of distress and did nothing about it. Let us learn from the horrible lessons of the pandemic. Let us become more pro-active than reactive.
On some days, I think disruptive water efficiency technologies and water management practices can help. On other days I feel there is no hope. But we need to try with everything we have to avoid Watergeddon.
We are moving at a fast pace toward Watergeddon, unless we do something about it now. We don’t have until 2050 or 2100 to solve the problem. Unless we aggressively address the water issues over the next 10 years, we will experience the following:
Water scarcity on a global scale—regionalized where some areas experience extreme flooding and other areas experience droughts while rivers continuously get polluted or go completely dry.
There is more: coastlines disappearing, aquifers being rapidly depleted, increased water pollution due to urbanization and industrialization, increased potential for armed conflict, massive protests, food shortages and energy blackouts because powerplants need water to produce electricity.
There will be further warming of the oceans and continuous destructive weather patterns like hurricanes and tornadoes.
And, as I previously mentioned, forced human migration—as cities around the world run out of water, tens to hundreds of millions of people could be forced to migrate in a relatively short amount of time. There would be potential for anarchy in certain areas of the world as governments are overthrown. The Syrian refugee crisis will look like a walk in the park. All of these things are tied together.
Watergeddon sounds like doom and gloom in the distant future, but it has already started. Unlike the climate debate where the question is by how many degrees will the temperature rise by 2050 or 2100, we do not have that luxury of time to debate water scarcity and water security. My pessimism increases daily on whether we will be able to deal with these water issues. On some days, I think disruptive water efficiency technologies and water management practices can help. On other days I feel there is no hope. But we need to try with everything we have to avoid Watergeddon.
Over the last 18 months, I spent considerable time analyzing water’s unequal distribution across the world, increased water demand as a function of population size and clustering vs. dwindling supply, dammed rivers, water pollution and many other variables.
Having been a complexity scientist from a business perspective over the last two decades, if anything, I have learned that nature is unpredictable, chaotic and most importantly non-linear. Facts are facts. Logic and reason are hard to dispute. I have continued to see the world from a non-linear perspective while analyzing all the water data.
As I continue my research, I will share water patterns with you. The articles below discuss water problems from the perspective of water scarcity and water abundance. These are from the Wall Street Journal and you might need a subscription. I will share other articles from various media sources in future articles.
Since June 1, historic floods have affected more than 45 million people in 27 provinces, July 26, 2020, by Rosa de Acosta and Max Rust, Wall Street Journal.
-“Since the beginning of June this year, the floods have impacted more than 45 million people in 27 of China’s provinces, exacting an economic cost of more than 116 billion yuan ($16.5 billion). According to the Ministry of Emergency Management, 142 people were dead or missing and 35,000 houses had collapsed as of July 23.” -“China has been pouring money into water conservation projects on major rivers and lakes, but for decades it has neglected smaller bodies of water. Roughly 96% of the 98,000 dams dotting China’s rivers are smaller dikes constructed in the 1950s and 1960s. Poor management of these small dams and streams weakens their ability to divert flood waters from the upper and middle reaches of their respective rivers, creating hidden dangers.”
How many people are fully aware of this situation? Water problems are regional but globally connected from environmental, social and commerce perspective. Imagine if the entire country of Spain, Argentina or Uganda was completely affected by the floods?
Oil-rich Gulf states grow crops in Egypt and Sudan to export, leaving locals increasingly dependent on imports, November 24, 2019, by Justin Scheck and Scott Patterson, Wall Street Journal.
-Along its journey from Central Africa’s mountain forests, through one of the world’s largest swamps and across the vast deserts of Sudan and Egypt, the Nile has become a battleground. Countries that sit upriver and wealthy Gulf states are starting to use the Nile more than ever for water and electricity. That means less water for the 250 million-plus small farmers, herders
-Securing the right to grow crops for export using river water has given water-stressed countries an incentive to support strongmen in Egypt and Sudan. Despite their Nile access and ample farmland, both countries are big food importers.
-Water shortages sparked by population growth, global warming and pollution are also breaking out in Central America, the western U.S. and India. More than half the world’s cities regularly experience water shortfalls, according to the U.S. environmental nonprofit The Nature Conservancy. In 2018, Cape Town, South Africa, imposed severe restrictions on water use to avoid running dry and Chennai, India’s fifth-largest city, has been meeting only two-thirds of its water needs this year amid a long-running drought.
-In 2013, a group of U.S. military researchers at West Point predicted the Nile basin was headed toward “extreme water scarcity by mid-century with potentially catastrophic human implications.”
-Even with all that water dedicated to growing crops, the country is rapidly outstripping its resources. The problem is population growth, says Hussein Gadain, a former representative of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Egypt. The country’s population is forecast to grow 20% to 120 million by 2030, and to 150 million by 2050.
The possibility of another civil war or wars between nations is quite possible over the next 5 years due to rapid population growth, export of food using domestic resources and continual amplification of climate change.
Population growth, modernization and climate change spawn a resource crisis; trouble in a remote Himalayan region. August 23, 2019, by Bill Spindle, Wall Street Journal.
-Water crises are unfolding all across India, a product of population growth, modernization, climate change, mismanagement and the breakdown of traditional systems of distributing resources. India is running out of water in more places, in more different ways, putting more people at risk, than perhaps any other country.
-Nearly all of India’s biggest cities, including New Delhi, the nation’s capital, are rapidly depleting their groundwater reserves, and 40% of India’s people could lack drinking water by the end of the next decade, according to a 2018 report by NITI Aayog, a government-policy think tank.
-India is the 13th most water-stressed country in the world, but its population is triple the combined population of the other 16 countries facing extremely high water stress, according to the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit group with offices around the world that tracks water use and other global environmental and resource issues.
-Water resources in India have been mismanaged for decades. Critical groundwater resources, which account for 40% of India’s water supply, are being depleted at unsustainable rates, the NITI Aayog report said. Droughts are becoming more frequent, creating severe problems for India’s rain-dependent farmers.
-By 2030, water demand in India is projected to be twice the available supply, according to the report. “If nothing changes, and fast, things will get much worse…with severe water scarcity on the horizon for hundreds of millions,” the report said.
This is the article that amplified my thinking that we may not have even ten years before massive migration starts due to water scarcity. This article is a must read and it’s worth buying the Wall Street Journal subscription.
One powerful West Texas family wants to pipe from under its farmland to oil producers; another wants to stanch that flow. July 16, 2019, by Christopher M. Matthews, Wall Street Journal.
-There has never been a better time to sell West Texas water, thanks to the fracking boom. Shale companies use large volumes in hydraulic fracturing, blasting underground rock with water, sand and chemicals to unlock oil and gas.
-Drillers have made the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico the top-producing U.S. oil field, helping raise the country’s total production to a record 12 million barrels a day. Permian water use grew nearly ninefold between 2011 and 2016 as drillers added more than 10,000 wells, according to a Duke University study published in August. An average well there in 2018 used more than 15 million gallons, compared with 7 million in 2013.
-The Williams family has so far sold limited amounts of water for fracking, says Mr. Tisdale. The family wants to build a pipeline to sell water outside Pecos County—a process called “exporting”—to oil producers and others. It obtained a permit in 2017, following a decade of litigation that resulted in a settlement with the Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District, which regulates aquifer water levels.
“What’s the old saying, ‘whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting,’ ” said Jeff Williams. “My father always understood the value of water.”
Fascinating read about two families fighting for right to sell or preserve water. This is a must read to understand the kind of legal, political and potential armed conflicts we might see across the world when diversion, export and commodification of water continues to increase.
Facing high temperatures and drought, the continent is scorched again, sparking rare water emergency, July 25, 2019, By Scott Patterson and Lee Harris, Wall Street Journal.
-The heat and scarce rainfall is a toxic combination for farmers and industry. French power supplier Electricité de France SA has halted electricity generation at two nuclear reactors due to high temperatures in the river water used to cool the reactors. Profel, the European fruit and vegetable processor association, has called the 2019 growing season “another exceptional year with heat waves impacting fruit and vegetable crops.”
-Across France, as of Thursday, 77 of 96 mainland departments have implemented restrictions on water use as drought and record temperatures engulfed the country, with many zones in a crisis-level situation that bans irrigation. Dordogne, a region in southwest France near the port city of Bordeaux, implemented additional restrictions Tuesday, angering farmers forced to watch warm-season crops like corn wither in the blazing heat.
-Corn has been among the worst-hit crops this summer in France. “We’re still trying to figure out what can replace today’s corn crop,” said Patrice Brachet, a dairy farmer in Dordogne who grows corn to feed his herd.
The struggle to conserve water during the Europe’s heat wave shows how energy is related to water and water to energy. One of the most overlooked areas of water scarcity is the huge potential implications of not being able to generate electricity because the power plants need water to produce energy.
-The heat and water crisis provide clear evidence how agriculture and small farmers can be cut off from access to water as the climate changes; and the devastation and disruption it can cause for food production supply chains.
Every day I see multiple articles in the media that display some form of a Watergeddon pattern. But despite the current water crisis, this problem is not getting enough attention locally, regionally or globally.
Let me quickly Google for you how many people search for water related issues. If you Google water scarcity for example, the search displays 43,400,000 results. Water pollution has 319,000,000 results. Water flooding shows 125,000,000 results. Justin Bieber shows 217,000,000 results.
Hmmm … Justin Bieber is more interesting than water scarcity and water flooding. We have to change that. Maybe we get Justin Bieber to write a song about Watergeddon? We need to build awareness regarding water issues facing the planet. So, let’s go on that journey together, with or without Justin Bieber.
Let there be water tomorrow for all.
 https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/global/wash_statistics.html  UN, 2018  UNICEF, 2017  Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2016  Richey et al., 2015  Burek et al., 2016  UNESCO, 2009  Global Water Institute, 2013