I am retired now, but some years ago I was part of a “Marketing Review Team” formed by the board of the multinational company for whom I worked. The brief to the group was clear enough. “Decide in which direction and in which product sector the company should invest it’s considerable influence, know-how, energy and financial resources”.
The company was already involved in food and it’s related industries and had considerable involvement around the world in the property and farming sectors. Further development in those areas was considered unwise since the political connotations far outweighed any possible financial gains. It was clearly intended that the company should be looking into sectors that were currently in their infancy or, better still, at the idea stage.
The inevitable suggestions of telecommunications, more sophisticated versions of the mobile phone/camera/voice recorder/etc were tabled. These were followed by suggestions for new types of housing, new forms of travel and the hotel business, the building of new railways in underdeveloped countries, inter-space communication and travel. All were put forward, with many others, as viable and desirable areas to exploit. My suggestion was to make massive investment in the global provision of clean water, particularly in the parts of the world that so desperately needed it, and the safe disposal of waste matter. Both suggestions were regarded as “Too pedestrian” and greeted at best with pity and at worst with derision. Was this really the best I could come up with? I was asked sarcastically. Well yes, as a matter of fact it was…and it still is.
It isn’t necessary to be a genius or to spend a lifetime researching the subjects to realise that these probably constitute two of the most serious problems facing mankind, and are the most underdeveloped. The most advanced countries demand ever increasing amounts of clean water whilst vast areas of the world have never had this basic necessity of life. As the world’s climate changes and the populations of the continents grow ever larger, the need for clean water must universally increase…there can be no other conclusion.
It can be argued that the responsibility to provide clean water rests with governmental agencies. But argument to governments constricted by lack of resources rarely give rise to successful action and it will therefore to fall to the commercial community to take the view that water is a commercial commodity like any other resource, and take the initiative in it’s development. With the ice caps reducing year on year there will be no shortage of water. So if I were asked now “When will people worldwide have enough clean, safe water to drink?” My reply would be as it was all those years ago. “When governments have the political will and the commercial sector builds processing plants that can produce and distribute clean drinking water quickly, efficiently and available to all at a reasonable cost”. Technology has advanced so much that I do not accept the argument that it’s too expensive to process sea-water. I do believe that the cost of not doing so will be catastrophic in the longer term.