Basic countries to absorb 42% of water demand by 2030 | Juliette Jowit

China, India, Brazil and South Africa will require nearly half of all the water supplies for homes, industry and agriculture by 2030

In doing research for a feature related to water, I came across an almost unbelievable statistic from an otherwise sober and respectable report. A day later, I'm still unable to comprehend the scale of it; I keep re-reading it, turning the page around, and saying out aloud, so strong is the instinct that it can't quite be true.

The report is Charting our water future: Economic frameworks to inform decision-making; it was put together by consultants McKinsey & Company on behalf of the 2030 Water Resources Group, an alliance of concerned bodies including the World Bank Group and big private interests such as the Coca-Cola Company, SAB Miller and Standard Chartered Bank.

The headline point of the report is that by 2030, unless substantial changes are made to conserve water and build new supplies, there will be a 40% gap between projected water demand from a bigger, richer global population, and "accessible, reliable" supplies.

The really astonishing statistic though was this: that 42% of all projected water demand – yes, nearly half of all the water for homes, industry and agriculture – will be required by just four countries. Four. China, India, Brazil and South Africa. Read it for yourself on page 15 of the Executive Summary. I know China and India are big, and getting bigger, fast. But still ...

To avoid future water crises, we're told that gargantuan investment is needed in water infrastructure. Some of this will be big desalination plants and dams; much of it – as McKinseys stress – will be smaller, cheaper and potentially hugely beneficial improvements to irrigation ditches and pumps, to leaking pipes and the types of seeds farmers plant.

The big question is not really what will help, but how to get it done. Water pricing is the single biggest factor that would make a difference, but few politicians will campaign, or even govern, for a mandate to put up bills because water is essential. Which is, of course, the reason why they should.

It may be true that the global water problem is made up of a series of local water issues. But if 42% of demand is in China, India, Brazil and South Africa – all of which are already suffering water stresses – then perhaps the world needs to put a much, much greater focus on these four countries. Solving shortages in Rio or Shanghai will not help farmers in Tajikistan or California, but many millions of people would benefit, and could set an example to the rest of the world.


Juliette Jowit

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Ways to step up the fight against global antimicrobial resistance | Letters
Letters: Decision-makers must acknowledge the pivotal role that water, sanitation and hygiene play in preventing infection, writes WaterAid’s Margaret Batty. Meanwhile Matt Ball of the The Good Food Institute says moving to plant-based and clean meat is the best thing we can do to avoid pandemics of antibiotic-resistant superbugs


29, Mar, 2018 @5:02 PM

Article image
Rich countries' $100bn promise to fight climate change 'not delivered'
Brazil, China, India and South Africa say they are disappointed in failure to make good on promise six years ago to mobilise $100bn a year by 2020

Suzanne Goldenberg

29, Jun, 2015 @12:51 PM

Article image
'It was too hot, even to leave home': stories from the world's hottest year
From drought-hit Nigeria to wine-growing Finland, we hear from people whose lives have already been changed by a warming world

Patrick Kingsley, John Vidal, Oliver Milman, Michael Slezak, Vidhi Doshi, David Crouch, Oliver Holmes, Jonathan Watts, Shaun Walker

14, Nov, 2016 @12:03 PM

Article image
Brics and Africa: a winning partnership against hunger?

As day one of the Brics summit draws to a close, Lidia Cabral asks: can the group offer an alternative model for dealing with food insecurity in Africa?

Lídia Cabral

26, Mar, 2013 @6:40 PM

Article image
Copenhagen destroyed by Danish draft leak, says India's environment minister
Jairam Ramesh claims Connie Hedegaard admitted leak of text was 'death blow from which summit never recovered'

Jonathan Watts in Boao, Hainan

12, Apr, 2010 @12:00 PM

Article image
Why global water shortages pose threat of terror and war

From California to the Middle East, huge areas of the world are drying up and a billion people have no access to safe drinking water. US intelligence is warning of the dangers of shrinking resources and experts say the world is 'standing on a precipice'

Suzanne Goldenberg

09, Feb, 2014 @12:04 AM

Article image
Which countries are doing the most to stop dangerous global warming?
In November, nearly 200 countries meet in Paris for UN talks to agree a new climate deal. Find out below how their pledges - known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs - compare

Matt Osborn, Troy Griggs, Will Franklin, Caelainn Barr , Adam Vaughan, Arthur Neslen, Justin McCurry, Shaun Walker, Suzanne Goldenberg, Lenore Taylor, Jonathan Watts, Jennifer Duggan, Jason Burke, Emma Howard, John Vidal, Jo Tuckman

16, Oct, 2015 @8:43 AM

Article image
Yangtze delta warned to prepare for effects of climate change

Delta has been warming faster than global average for a decade, and the impact is already being felt, according to WWF China

Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent

10, Nov, 2009 @4:57 PM

Article image
Has the Brics bubble burst?
Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa seem to be failing to justify predictions of 21st century domination

Simon Tisdall

27, Mar, 2016 @12:14 PM

Article image
Narendra Modi labels Pakistan 'mothership of terrorism'
Indian PM makes reference to neighbour as ‘nurturing a mindset that terrorism is justified’ in speech to world leaders in Goa

Jon Boone in Islamabad

16, Oct, 2016 @2:50 PM