The Crisis of the 21st Century is...Water Supply

That and sanitation (water supply's poor cousin for infrastructure and aid).

Clearly climate change will continue to dominate the news. But my prediction for the new year (and those to follow) is that we'll be seeing a lot more water issues on the (web)page. International Rivers has covered water supply in the Himalayas, followed the water politics between nations like India and Pakistan, and tracked emergent water storage solutions (such as rainwater harvesting). News agencies worldwide are also picking up the stories as well, especially on how water relates to climate change, health, and international politics.

The Financial Times just did a special report ("Supply Strains Are Source of Problem") on energy industries as water supplies decrease with climate change, overpopulation, and the increase in conflicting users. While it gives short shrift to the problems that water privatization has caused in the past (see the World Development Movement's water privatization map), it draws connections between water, energy development, and (what FT readers really care about) business. In short, what's good for the environment is good for business.

That just leaves sanitation. While 1 billion people worldwide lack access to clean water, more than 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation. It's an unpopular topic, taboo even. Aid agencies and government officials find it a lot easier to gain popularity (i.e. reelection!) by constructing modern water supply systems for their cities rather than getting their hands dirty with building new sewers.

Remember the Millennium Development Goals? The world is slightly off-track towards the MDG drinking water targets. But the UN has already given up on sanitation because we won't even come close. Currently Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia lack the most funding support and suffer from the worst water and sanitation conditions. Globally, diarrhea kills more people than malaria, and it's the second most common cause of death among children under five. (Diarrhea! We don't even need any fancy medicine for this, just some soap and local outreach!)

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A ray of hope comes from the many NGOs and entrepreneurial companies out there working with rural farmers and communities to build sustainable WS&S systems, through public participation, local training, and use of local materials and expertise (and minimum large dams). And many such groups are starting to gain traction even in industrialized countries like the US (see local rainwater-harvesting article)--a good thing, since we'll soon be experiencing many of the problems currently plaguing our neighbors in the "Global South."