We have carbon footprints, now how about water footprints?

London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York… as the global population continues to increase, so does the number of megacities. In fact, 15 years from now the number of megacities is expected to grow by 50 per cent, that’s 29 mega-cities in 2025.

Current cities will continue to expand, and new ones such as Songdo in South Korea re-emerge from the sea to cater to ever increasing populations.

Such rapid population acceleration and development, unsurprisingly, has an impact on natural resources.

Water may cover 70 per cent of the world’s surface, but globally it has been estimated that over a billion people go without drinkable water.

Consider that it takes 140 litres of water to make one cup of coffee, 3,000 litres of water to produce 1 kilo of rice or 16,000 litres of water to produce 1 kilo of beef. These statistics of course vary depending on various production systems, but do provide an understanding of the quantity of this natural resource necessary for our day to day requirements.

It’s therefore no surprise that the public and private sector globally has seen a flood of investment into water technology development.

New technologies have been evolving to cater to such water supply and demand issues. Desalination or the conversion of sea water to fresh water is one, waste water treatment with membrane technology another.

In fact, global consultant Black and Veatch just announced the completion of the first phase of consultancy services for Singapore’s second large-scale desalination plant. The new plant which is scheduled to be ready for commercial operation in 2013 is one of the largest seawater reverse osmosis plants in Asia. The plant is part of efforts by the Singapore government to achieve water self-sufficiency by 2061.

And Singapore is not alone in its efforts for sustainable water solutions.

Investments into the water industry within the business community are growing. At this year’s Singapore International Water Week for example, held from 28th June to 2nd July, the total value of announcements for projects awarded, tenders, investments into Singapore and R&D MOUs exceeded S$2.8 billion, that’s a 27 per cent increase on the announcements made the previous year.

But I wonder, other than directly investing into water technology, if we should see other viable business and economic alternatives to the issue of water supply and demand.

During a seminar at Singapore International Water Week industry experts discussed the viability of a water trading market, akin to that of the current carbon market.

Could we see water foot-printing much as we have seen carbon foot-printing efforts to reduce or control carbon consumption?

Already there are applications for consumers to monitor and calculate their water footprint online. I wonder whether or not such a global water trading platform would become a reality in the not too distant future.

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