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.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.
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."
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.Read the whole thing, of course. Optimist that I am, I just love this stuff!
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."