Water shortages and drought are the next US scourge, warns group

The next scourge to afflict the global economy after soaring oil and food prices will be a surge in the cost of water brought on by growing scarcity, one of the world's biggest companies warned yesterday.

General Electric, the US industrial group, said it would cut its own use of water by 20% by 2012 and export water-saving and recycling technology to countries - often emerging economies - hit by shortages. Jeff Immelt, chief executive, said in Beijing: "We believe that, just as greenhouse gas emissions have been a big societal challenge, the same thing is true for water."

Lorraine Bolsinger, vice-president of GE's Ecomagination green technology division, added: "There is going to be a price on water that is going to reflect its scarcity in a way it doesn't today. We're going to see that change over time - certainly in emerging markets."

The move by GE comes as scientists are warning that 50% of the world's nations will be hit by water shortages by 2025 and 75% by 2050. Barcelona is already importing water from France.

Drought, already one source of surging food prices and water shortages could prompt fresh outbreaks of war and terrorism as global warming, if unchecked, spreads desertification around the world and causes increasing crop failures, they say. A billion of the world's poorest people drink unsafe water, according to Unicef. Senior UN officials warned MEPs this year that nuclear power plants in Europe and the US could face shutdown because of a lack of cooling water, while the switch to biofuels was proving a big drain on dwindling supplies.

A cabinet office report predicted that by 2050 half of arable land in the world might no longer be suitable for production because of water shortages and climate change. By then the global population is expected to have grown from today's 6.3 billion to 9 billion.

GE said its water reduction target would save 7.4m cubic metres of fresh water - enough to fill more than 3,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

John Rice, GE vice-chairman and head of its infrastructure division, said in Brussels it was impossible to calculate cost-savings as the price of water was bound to rise over the next few years.

The group plans to employ water re-cycling technologies at more than 1,000 plants around the world - mainly in the US, Europe and Asia. Rice said some of the sites would cut water usage by more than others. "We expect that we will be able to improve and continue improving technologies which we will then be offering to other companies in other countries."

Immelt added: "We will use our broad portfolio to reduce water consumption, ensure long-term supplies and increase operational returns at GE facilities around the world."

DuPont, the US chemicals group, has set itself a target of a 30% reduction in water consumption by 2015, while Coca-Cola has said it has achieved a cut of almost 20% since 2003.

The GE initiative is under the umbrella of Ecomagination, which includes energy-saving lighting and renewable energy. It boosted its sales to 8% of global turnover last year.

The group, which reduced its own greenhouse gas emissions by 8% last year, separately announced a deal with oilfield services company Schlumberger to develop clean coal technology.

posted by: Somebody @ 11:44am