Global Conference 2008

Global Conference 2008

Water: The Global Battle for the World's Most Precious Resource

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 / 10:55 am - 12:05 pm

More than 1 billion people are in need of safe drinking water. With that sobering fact in mind, moderator Catherine McCoy of Stark Investments led a panel of experts through a fascinating analysis of global water issues, noting that more than one third of the world's population will lack access to clean water by 2025. Jeff Seabright of The Coca-Cola Company described water scarcity as a "strategic risk" that must be addressed beyond the company's facilities, including watershed management and work in surrounding communities.

Booky Oren of the Arison Water Initiative pointed out the "urbanization challenge," suggesting that in times when more people live in urban areas than in rural areas, water scarcity is not confined to the developing world, but is a worldwide problem that cannot be solved by infrastructure alone. Increasing system efficiency and figuring out the "water supply puzzle" creates clear opportunities in the near future.

Andrew Benedek of Zenon Environmental compared innovative membrane water-filtration technology to chip innovation; he believes that it has the potential to solve water quantity and quality issues on small and large scales. Applying the right technology can alleviate the water crisis. "If a country is well managed, technology is here to solve water problems," he stated. "It is all about governance and management now."

Earl Jones of GE Water and Process Technologies connected water issues to technology, service, scale and globalization. He divided the water problem into the following pieces: supply strategy, demand management, energy nexus, public policy and "eco-system collaboration." Arguing for the need to take pro-active measures, he stated that "hope is not a method we can adopt" in relation to water.

Éric Lesueur of Veolia Water suggested viewing water as a public good. "At the end of the day, the mission is to provide water service to the people and achieve efficiency in managing the water cycle." He also recognized that water is a very different commodity than oil. Whatever we do, the amount of water on earth stays the same; what changes is the state and quality of the water.

The panel then addressed the pivotal question of how to bring clean water to the world's poor. Seabright suggested partnering with NGOs to work on scaling and replicating projects. Benedek stated that the membrane technology can be adopted at the household level and has the potential to be affordable for poor communities. Oren implied the need to view water as an economic problem, not a natural resource problem; he felt it must be addressed with a holistic approach.

The panel agreed that it is critical to understand the energy-water nexus. Food issues must be considered as well, especially where there are competing claims on crops for energy vs. food applications. The concepts of "waste to value" and "waste to energy" were discussed as an important part of the equation. It was pointed out that having a large supply of water is not enough; quality and accessibility are critical components. From an investment point of view, Jones suggested that we must find the right value proposition of water in order to promote sustainable development. Water reuse was brought up as an example of "water production." Wastewater treatment and reuse is especially applicable for agriculture and industrial applications, and the sociological barrier of using treated wastewater for drinking must be alleviated as well.

The panel concluded by suggesting approaches for solving the global water crisis. Oren brought up the need for sharing information on best practices and mistakes to avoid. Seabright added that investing in water efficiency is critical in order to be able to "produce more with less." The panel agreed that the issue of water pricing is a high priority, and the notion of "free water" can't continue. Water subsidies provide disincentives for investments and work against the market's pricing mechanism. When asked about water as a commodity, Lesueur described water as a very local matter.

With the example of water rights and transfers, the panel concluded that there is no simple answer. What works in one region might not work in another, especially if the consequences of water-rights trading are not well understood. Finally, innovations in distribution infrastructure and technology breakthroughs in treatment and desalination processes were brought up as future opportunities that hold promise.


Catherine McCoy

Vice President, Global Environmental Finance, Stark Investments


Andrew Benedek

Founder, Chairman and CEO, ZENON Environmental Inc.

Earl Jones

General Manager, Global Commercial Development, GE Water and Process Technologies

Éric Lesueur

Project Director, Veolia Water

Booky Oren

President and CEO, Arison Water Initiative; Chairman, WATEC Israel

Jeff Seabright

Vice President, Environment and Water Resources, The Coca-Cola Company

Return to Program Detail