Scanning Retrospective, No. 14

Foresight Snippets – No. 14

[Originally published] July 2001

  • An Increasingly Thirsty Future Leading to Water Wars?
  • Privatising the Water of Life
  • Cloud Catchers

An Increasingly Thirsty Future Leading to Water Wars?

One of the most important questions for the near future is the impact of diminishing freshwater resources, and the possibility that disputes about access to water might exacerbate regional tensions, possibly becoming military action. An OECD report examines how thinking on these questions has evolved since 1993 and presents updated projections of the main trends concerning water resources. Trends thought likely to have the greatest influence on the future situation include population growth; economic expansion; and, in the longer term, climate change. The OECD notes that while its member countries are not yet running out of water, supply problems are becoming more frequent. The threat of “water wars” in the Middle East is now internationally recognised. A senior Israeli security source has responded severely to the Lebanese construction of a water pumping station on the Hatzbani River, one of Israel’s main water sources for the Kinneret. Similar tensions exist with respect to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which rise in Turkey, and flow through Syria and Iraq to the Persian Gulf.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
The Jerusalem Post
American University Inventory of Conflict and Environment

Privatising the Water of Life

Given the recent fiasco in California with privatised electricity suppliers failing to adequately ensure constancy of supply, what lessons do we learn with regard to the supply of essential resources through privatised organisations? We have had the Auckland power outage; the Sydney water scare, and the Melbourne gas shortage, all within the recent past. What social responsibilities do organisations supplying essential services have? Is it sensible to apply corporate guidelines to the provision of these services and replace the principle of “provision of safe supply” with a profit motive? Entrepreneurial values may be useful in fostering an opportunity focus, but these values must be tempered by deeper values founded on social responsibility. One would have hoped they had learned their lesson in California. However, the government agency that supplies roughly 17 million people in the Los Angeles area with drinking water plans to buy large volumes of “privately owned” water for the first time. This decision effectively relaxes the tight government control over this essential resource, and comes after a shift in US federal policy reacting to projected shortages of water in the years ahead. By a curious irony, in Brazil the Californian issues of electricity and water are combined — the current shortage of water in Brazil due to drought has also led to a shortage of power. This is because 90% of the country’s electricity is generated by hydro-electric systems, and very little investment has been made into alternative sources, such as we reported in Snippets No. 9 (30 March 2001).

Source: The New York Times (free registration required)

Cloud Catchers

New Scientist reports: “Japan’s Federal Highway Agency is testing an unorthodox method of keeping its misty motorways safe: nets that catch the fog. When roadside detectors sense moisture in the air, 10-metre-high self-erecting nets spring up alongside a 50-kilometre stretch of road near the foggy seaside town of Beppu. As water droplets pass through the 2-millimetre-mesh nylon nets, 40 per cent of them cling to the fabric. Early tests show the net is already doubling visibility from 50 to 100 metres.” One wonders also whether this may become a way to “farm” water in areas where it might not actually fall as rain.

Source: New Scientist magazine, 3 February 2001

Foresight Snippets are interesting, intriguing or weird things we find during our strategic scanning which may or may not have direct obvious relevance to Swinburne, but which do provide signals about what the future might be like. Brought to you by the Foresight & Planning Unit.

An archive of the Foresight Snippets and a list of Frequently Asked Questions are available at [deleted].

Copyright © 2001 FPU and Swinburne University of Technology.
Feedback is welcome. Send feedback to [deleted].

NOTE: In all the posts in this series, the original source URLs are left exactly as they were when published 20-odd years ago. This means they will almost certainly be dead links (or good ol’ 404 errors). I do not have the patience or inclination to follow-up or find any archived or re-located versions of those web pages (because, well, life is too short). But, if it really bugs you, I invite you to see if you can find archived or relocated versions of those dead-link pages. And if you do, let me know, and I’ll update these posts with due credit to your detective work.

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