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The sustainability challenge: Meeting the needs of the water-energy nexus

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In 2009 Davos World Economic Forum reported that the world is quickly heading towards “water bankruptcy.” As global population soars, food, energy and freshwater are becoming increasingly scarce. Water, whether for potable or industrial use, is limited, and some supplies are not useable. The need for water in the developed world is high. Two-thirds of all the water consumed is used for irrigating crops. Water consumption in the western United States is much higher due to agricultural issues—over 1 million gallons of water per year is used to irrigate one acre of farmland in the west due to arid conditions. In the developing world, the challenge is making the limited amount of available fresh water clean enough to drink. The World Health Organization states that 1/6 of the world’s population does not have access to safe water for drinking. This translates into 1.1 billion people globally who do not have access to clean drinkable water. Similarly, the world is in the throes of a significant energy challenge. The same population growth that will lead to an increase in water requirements will necessitate an increased energy requirement. And there is a strong relationship between income and energy demand. According to a recent Shell report on energy scenarios to 2050, when per capita GDP reaches $3,000, energy demand explodes as industrialization and personal mobility take off, and it is not until the per capita GDP reaches approximately $10,000 that this tapers off. As of 2009, only 55 out of 191 countries in the CIA World Factbook had a per capita GDP ppp higher than $10,000. To complicate matters more, these two critical needs, clean water and on-demand energy, are intimately intertwined. Clearly each is necessary for a productive, healthy society. But more importantly, neither can exist without the other.

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