Tuesday, December 16, 2008

U.S. Entrepreneurs Addressing the Water Crisis

Here's a long, extremely interesting article on the business opportunities being seized by entrepreneurs in addressing water quality, purification and simple availability issues, in Inc. magazine:
First, some numbers. The United Nations estimates that by 2025, two-thirds of the world's population will face periodic and often severe water shortages. And the problem is not limited to the developing world. Here in the U.S., water managers in 36 states are predicting significant shortfalls within the next decade. Even in regions that do have sufficient supplies, aging infrastructure, inadequate treatment facilities, and contamination pose more problems. No surprise, then, that battles over water rights are becoming commonplace, pitting states and sometimes nations against one another in increasingly bitter conflict.

Analysts estimate that the world will need to invest as much as $1 trillion a year on conservation technologies, infrastructure, and sanitation to meet demand through 2030. As in the past, most of the large capital-intensive projects will be done by the usual multinational corporations and engineering firms. But the extent of the problem and the demand for new technology to address it present -- pardon the metaphor -- a kind of perfect storm for entrepreneurs. "Small companies with intellectual property, significant know-how, and a product that's scalable can stake out a niche below the radar of the large companies," says Laura Shenkar, a water expert and consultant in San Francisco. "This is an opportunity that will generate Googles."
What follows is an impressive overview on all sorts of American companies who are way ahead of the curve on these issues, and how their markets are growing by leaps and bounds here in the United States and, even more importantly, in the rest of the world.

This is such an excellent illustration of Thomas P.M. Barnett's dictum that it will ultimately be free trade and free markets that will prove decisive in solving the really big problems, both in the developed world he calls the Core and the economically disconnected countries in what he calls the Gap. Here's a perfect illustration, again from the Inc. article:
Moving Water Industries, an 82-year-old, family-owned manufacturer of water pumps based in Deerfield Beach, Florida, has been selling portable pumps for irrigation and flood protection in Nigeria for more than 30 years. But its mission in Africa has taken on a new focus: addressing the problem of safe drinking water in rural villages. The company's solution is the SolarPedalFlo, a solar- and pedal-powered pump that can provide filtered and chlorinated water for thousands of people a day -- three to four times the amount that can be produced from a borehole equipped with a hand pump. Each unit costs about $15,000.

Working with local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, MWI has been able to install hundreds of the pumps in 12 African countries. The company is just introducing the technology in Central and South America and has one unit installed in the Philippines. With the hopes of speeding adaptation in Africa, it is in discussions with Green WiFi, a U.S.-based volunteer group that is working to install solar-powered Wi-Fi networks in the developing world. Together, the companies would be able to offer a compelling infrastructure two-for-one: clean water and Internet access powered by the same set of solar panels. William Bucknam, MWI's vice president and point man in Africa, hopes that pressure to meet the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals -- decreasing the number of people without access to safe drinking water by half by 2015 -- will encourage more of the public-private partnerships that will be needed for the technology to spread. "It's a huge problem," he says, "and we believe we have the answer."
Read the whole thing, of course. Optimist that I am, I just love this stuff!

An Excellent Article on Afghanistan...

... in The Nation, of all places!

It taught me stuff I didn't know, for example. I knew a fair amount about the mainline Taliban, and about Hekmatyar who was the favored boy of the Pakistani ISI during the 1980s war against the Soviet occupation, but I didn't know about this gent:
Erstwhile CIA hand Jalaluddin Haqqani heads yet a third insurgent network, this one based in the eastern border regions. During the anti-Soviet war, the United States gave Haqqani, now considered by many to be Washington's most redoubtable foe, millions of dollars, antiaircraft missiles and even tanks. Washington was so enamored of him that former Congressman Charlie Wilson once called him "goodness personified."

Haqqani was an early advocate of the "Afghan Arabs," who in the 1980s flocked to Pakistan to join the jihad against the Soviet Union. He ran training camps for them and later developed close ties to Al Qaeda, which developed out of the Afghan Arab networks toward the end of the anti-Soviet war. After 9/11 the United States tried desperately to bring him over to its side, but Haqqani said he couldn't countenance a foreign presence on Afghan soil and once again took up arms, aided by his longtime benefactors in ISI. He is said to have introduced suicide bombing to Afghanistan, a tactic unheard of here before 2001. Western intelligence officials pin the blame for most of the spectacular attacks in recent memory--a massive car bomb that ripped apart the Indian embassy in July, for example--on the Haqqani network, not the Taliban.

The Haqqanis command the lion's share of foreign fighters operating in the country and tend to be even more extreme than their Taliban counterparts. Unlike most of the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami, elements of the Haqqani network cooperate closely with Al Qaeda. Moreover, foreigners associated with the "Pakistani Taliban"--a completely separate organization that is at war with the Pakistani government--and various Pakistani guerrilla groups that were once active in Kashmir also filter across the border into Afghanistan, adding to a mix that has produced what one Western intelligence official calls a "rainbow coalition" that fights US troops. The foreign connection comes naturally, as the leadership of the three main wings of the insurgency is believed to be based across the border in Pakistan, and all insurgent groups are flush with funds from wealthy Arab donors and benefit from ISI training.
It all comes back to this -- if we're going to win in Afghanistan, we're going to need to neutralize Pakistan. And that's not going to happen if we continue the same old strategy of playing nice with a Pakistani military and ISI that is as often working against our goals as they are with us.

So, if Obama is really serious about stablizing Pakistan, the shipping of arms and of foreign aid to Pakistan, which ends up strengthening the military and the corrupt politicians, respectively, is not a winning strategy, to put it mildly.

My thinking is that we need a different approach, one we've not tried to this point: a full-on free-trade accord with Pakistan, wherein we reduce all our ridiculously high tariffs on their main export, which is textiles. This will have the benefit of strengthening the most free market elements of Pakistani society, instead of the feudal politicians like Zardari (Bhutto's widower), who is well-known as "Mr. Ten Percent" for the amount he skims off the top.

This would involve some pain on the part of textile laborers here in the United States, but it would be well worth it if the long-term result is a more stable Pakistan, with reduced influence for its fanatics.

Lastly, this might work well in confluence with a free trade accord with India and Afghanistan, so no one in that region feels left out.

We're not going to have a lot of money for big aid packages anyway in the current environment, so trying a different tack is well worth it!

Let's Laugh at Terrorists

I've always felt that terrorists like Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, or Christian Identity freaks like Tim McVeigh would be laughable if they weren't such effective mass murderers.

Still, for all their undeniable dangerousness, it's a good thing to laugh at them as the pathetic losers they are.

Into this market niche steps Jeff Dunham, ventriloquist extraordinaire, and his puppet Achmed, the Dead Terrorist: