The Coming Water Crisis

March 23, 2017

Water is life. Water is the new oil. Water is power.

Fresh, life-sustaining water is draining away. It’s becoming an increasingly scarce resource across the globe through overuse and pollution. As these issues become more acute, tensions that have already begun will escalate, and this will affect us all.

Some say water is the new oil. But unlike oil, water is essential for survival.

A deep dive into the planet’s water situation reveals that in the coming decades, every country, including the United States, will have to determine how to treat water as an economic good, a human right, and a depleting resource.

A look at three key areas—United States, the Middle East, and China—shows the range of challenges.

America is simultaneously water-rich and experiencing prolonged drought. Cases of contaminated drinking water are increasing, as are tensions with neighbors over shared water resources.

By 2025, it is estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas, concentrated in the Middle East, North Africa, and western Asia, according to the World Resources Institute. Water scarcity, now recognized as a key contributor to the war in Syria, will almost certainly create more conflict and more water refugees.

China, the world’s most populous nation, is also the world’s worst water polluter. After decades of communist development policies based on the Maoist slogan “make the high mountain bow its head, make the river yield the way,” the giant nation is running out of fresh water and running out of options.

In recognition that fresh water might no longer be considered a renewable resource, the United Nations declared access to clean water and sanitation a human right in 2010. And included in the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals—agreed to by all 193 member states last year—is a commitment to achieving universal access to safe water by 2030. The World Bank estimates this will require in excess of $1.7 trillion to achieve.

American economist Michael Burry—famed as one of the few people who foresaw the 2008 housing bubble burst—has been investing heavily in water for the past 15 years.

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