Resource Management: Allocating Precious Stores

By Ghadar, Fariborz | Industrial Management, March/April 2006 | Go to article overview

Resource Management: Allocating Precious Stores


Ghadar, Fariborz, Industrial Management


Businesses around the world must remain attentive to the changes in the availability of critical resources - water, food, and energy. Each of these resources and their respective challenges will present businesses with potential opportunities, costs, and risks. Businesses will have to be able to use technological innovation, cope with regional conflicts, and increase operational efficiency. Businesses that create policies to respond strategically to these changing tectonic forces will be able to avoid and manage escalating costs, take advantage of increasing opportunities, and prosper in the future.

Over the next 25 years, businesses will play a key role in inventing and developing new technologies such as desalinization plants, biotechnology, and renewable fuels to help relieve resource scarcity. Corporations and governments are already forging partnerships to commercialize resources and improve the production and efficiency of water management systems, food security and distribution, and energy availability.

Water's increasing value

Water is Earth's most precious renewable resource and its growing scarcity, as a result of a population explosion, urbanization, and environmental degradation, is increasing its demand and value as a commodity. The invaluableness of water lies in the fact that it has no equitable substitute and is necessary for the production of other vital resources such as food and energy. The process of ensuring that the public and industry have access to water - or blue gold, as many have begun to refer to it - is one of the most challenging problems confronting countries and corporations in the 21st century.

Water is critical to the health of the global population. In addition, it is essential to development, and it supports numerous economic activities, such as irrigated agriculture, transportation, hydroelectric energy, and various other industries. Agriculture is perhaps the most important use of water, making up approximately 70 percent of all global freshwater withdrawals. Large-scale farming would be unable to provide food for the world's large populations without irrigation, and crops would never be able to be grown in the deserts of the Middle East and the western United States. Considering the recent energy crisis and escalating oil prices, new advances in hydroelectrical power are necessary.

Astonishingly, 97.4 percent of the Earths water is too salty to use for irrigation or as drinking water. Of the small amount of fresh water present on the planet, less than 1 percent of it is available for use. Since fresh water is renewable only by rainfall, only this water can be considered available for human consumption. Rainfall is the only source of fresh water that can be extracted without putting strain on finite sources.

Currently, 1.2 billion people lack access to safe and affordable water for their domestic use. More than 900 million people in rural areas that have an income below the $l-a-day poverty line lack access to water for their livelihoods. The reality of global water scarcity analyses is that up to two-thirds of the world's population will be affected by water scarcity over the next few decades. Water will be scarce in areas with low rainfall and relatively high population density. These areas include Asia, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa. More than 90 percent of people in the Middle East live in areas of water stress insofar as fresh water is consumed faster than its replenished. In addition, developed nations are coping with scarcity and pollution problems exacerbated by droughts and climate changes.

As a result of a global population explosion, urbanization, industrial and agricultural pollution, shrinking wetlands, inequitable distribution, and climatic changes, the world's water demand is at an all-time high and supply is at an unsustainable level.

Water shortage and inequitable distribution can intensify international tensions and be a source of conflict along borders of international watersheds. …

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