Forget OPEC. The next cartel may export drinking water.
Already, companies are locking up resources and selling abroad.
Some call him crazy, others, a genius - but if Terry Spragg is anything, he's a believer that filling up giant ocean-going bags with fresh water and towing them to water-poor regions can slake the thirst of nations and help deliver world peace.Skip to next paragraph
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If that seems far-fetched, consider that less than 2.5 percent of the world's water is fresh. That vital resource is threatened by pollution, waterborne disease, and shifts in rain patterns caused by global warming, recent studies show. All of which, in some eyes, leaves the world on the verge of a scramble by private companies and countries vying for rights to available water.
Forget OPEC. Some experts say the next cartel will be an organization of water-exporting countries. Others see more danger in local privatization of water, which could restrict access to the poor within nations.
"Water is blue gold, it's terribly precious," says Maude Barlow, who chairs for the Council of Canadians, an Ottawa-based citizens' watchdog. "Not too far in the future, we're going to see a move to surround and commodify the world's fresh water. Just as they've divvied up the world's oil, in the coming century there's going to be a grab."
Signs of corporate interest are already popping up. Pipelines for bulk water shipments are reported under consideration between Scotland and water-short England. Similar plans exist for Turkey to pipe water to central Europe and markets in Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, and Malta, Ms. Barlow says.
Mr. Spragg's water bags are also gaining attention. The California entrepreneur is trying to persuade the White House to broker a Middle East peace deal by first filling 20 or 30 "Spragg bags" with fresh water in Turkey and floating them to Palestinians and Israelis. He claims the cost to transport them a few hundred miles would be less than a penny a gallon.
It's not as wild-eyed as it sounds. In the late 1990s, Aquarius Water Transportation became the first company to tow bags of fresh water for export, delivering commercial bulk quantities to the Greek Islands. In 2000, another company, Nordic Water Supply, began using 5 million gallon bags - 10 times as big as the original Aquarius containers - to float water from Turkey to northern Cyprus.
Turkey also seems willing to sell water to Israel, and the two are debating price and delivery methods.
"Water is a critical issue over there," Spragg says. "If these two warring groups see those big water bags sitting off their coast, they'll see they're going to be water independent. It would be a huge thing for them."
Other exporters are using more conventional transport.
"It is impossible to overestimate the importance of pure water supply," said A. Fred Paley, president of Global H2O Resources, in a statement. "Many communities in over 50 counties throughout the world are suffering needlessly because water is either insufficient or polluted or may not exist at all."