All the time the struggle in Libya was raging, and until the final assault on Tripoli, I wondered about water as a strategic weapon of war, especially options for it in water stressed, centralised countries. Libya seemed a ripe case for such tactics. But it didn't turn out that way, and why it didn't perhaps reveals something about the value of water.
Market Insights on Water
The seizing up of large parts of the Northern Ireland Water Service network this winter has illustrated some basic truths about managing municipal water supplies, and how that task is becoming even more challenging. None of them are stunningly new, but they're worth considering all the same:
Much has been made in the last year or so about the potential for China's environmental problems, particularly its water constraints, to act as a brake on the country's economic performance.
Its main waterways suffer severe and unchecked pollution from heavy industry, major rivers and lakes are shrinking or even drying up, and the country's main water resources are in the north, while the population is rising fastest in the south. Could water indeed be China's Achilles heel ?
These are serious issues. But focusing on them alone in China's water story is missing a trick.
The best kept secret in England and Wales - at least until the recession really bites - is that you don't have to pay your water bill. True, you'll get threatening notes from the debt collection agencies to whom the utilities have outsourced the unsavoury task of chasing recalcitrant customers, but if you stand your ground, the law is on your side. And in consequence bad debt is a growing problem on water companies' balance sheets.
The Cave Report into greater competition in the UK water sector got a better hearing than some might have imagined a few years ago. But we need to learn from the past. For years nobody saw any percentage in greater competition. A Labour Govt. had no ideological interest, and meddling with a sector that combines public infrastructure and health seemed to be asking for trouble, for little gain.
Businesses have long paid little attention to the implications of their clean water use. In fact, they have probably been more active (where prodded by legislation or PR disasters) in managing their effluent than in looking at their use of process water. Sectors with significant "in-product" use of water such as food and beverage have traditionally sought to reduce its input cost, while the pharma and micro chip sectors have focused on water purity.
This is changing - not only are more sectors looking at water cost and quality, but such a review has now to be deeper and broader...