Bridge across the Susquehanna River, Harrisburg, PA © pam lazos

Thanks to Nicholaus Rohleder for his thoughts on the 9th WWF in Dakar.  This article will be posted in four parts.

Solving the Water Crisis: Takeaways from the 9th World Water Forum 

By Nicholaus Rohleder

The global water supply is a constant, minus a few liters that have been exported into space since the sixties.  Global warming trends, whether caused or abetted by human behavior, are changing the composition of that water supply. Ice will become less, atmospheric humidity will increase, as will the amount of salt water. Fresh water supply will become slightly less, but more importantly the delivery of that fresh water (rain, snow, hail) will become less predictable and more uneven. Moreover, the fresh water supply worldwide, which has been uneven (by region and by cycles) from times immemorial, threatens to become even more so. 

Water access is fundamental, a necessary condition, for (human) lives and livelihoods. Water is the world’s most precious natural resource and in most places in short supply. Barring military hubris, water scarcity is the most probable catalyst for the largest economic, geopolitical, and human crises in the decades to come. Currently, 771 million people (1 in 10 people globally) lack access to safe water; 1.7 billion (1 in 4 people globally) lack access to a toilet; every 2 minutes a child dies from a water-related disease; and diarrhea caused by water borne illnesses is the third leading cause of death among children globally.

Amish farm in Lancaster County © pam lazos

It does not stop there, water is not only essential to sustaining life, but also a critical input into industrial and agricultural processes and the modern goods the world consumes at an ever-increasing rate. At present, the lack of access to basic water and sanitation, a far cry from what is the status quo in the western world, costs the world $260 billion per annum in gross domestic product. Water touches every individual, product, good, and activity globally today, which creates an inelastic demand curve for a dwindling resource that is not treated as such, not in the least due to very strong traditionally held views and habits regarding water, views that often do not allow for water to be seen as a commodity. 

Indeed, next to striving to “become green”, many companies embrace self-reliance when it comes to managing this “commodity”.   For example, the campus of WIPRO in Kolkata has its own water supply and wastewater treatment system, has a pharmacy and small hostel, and entertains the concept of being self-sufficient and using circular economy principles to the utmost.  The Golden Tulip hotel in Accra, Ghana aspires to apply this green thinking as well, understanding that their business needs to operate in a public market with insufficient infrastructure. 

The tri-annual World Water Forum, the largest global conference on issues related to water, met for the 9th time in Dakar, Senegal this March to “respond” to these pressing challenges, set in the context of the UN Sustainable  Development Goals and laid out further in the Dakar Declaration. This marked the first time that a country in Sub-Saharan Africa hosted the Forum.  Being in Senegal, a frontier market, (defined as a market economy that is more developed than a least developed country’s, but too small, risky, or illiquid to be classified as an emerging market economy), the content and rhetoric of the conference trended toward water issues in the developing world where the impacts of the water crisis are starkly more acute. Not only do emerging and frontier markets face considerably more urgent water crises due to the impacts of climate change, but they also have experienced economic carnage of unprecedented magnitude due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Deliberations at the World Water Forum were grouped around four major themes, including rural development, peace and collaborative governance and means and tools. Means and Tools was mostly translated as Enabling Infrastructure Financing,  Technology Transfer and adapting technology that befits local conditions, and how communities themselves could be resilient market participants as suppliers (professionals, managers, educators, etc.) as well as consumers (households, farms, business owners). Understated in this dialogue were the needs to improve water literacy in and among professional circles and the need to get more female participation in all the echelons of the Water Commons/Market.

Nicholaus Rohleder is a Co-Founder of Climate Commodities, a financial technology company that operates the largest digital marketplace for offtake contracts, feedstock contracts, and insurance solutions in addition to a critical minerals mining, processing, and refining business and solar + energy storage business in the renewable power sector; Co-Founder of the New American Energy Fund, a hedge fund focused on the climate technology supply chain and energy transition; serves as an Adjunct Professor at the Earth Institute and the Climate School at Columbia University teaching a course on life cycle analysis and materials science; an Alumni Board Member at the Earth Institute at Columbia University; a member of the production team for the Energy Policy Now Podcast at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy; a member of the Energy Technology Leadership Council at Tulsa Innovation Labs; and part of an economic development initiative funded by the $4 billion dollar George Kaiser Family Foundation. Mr. Rohleder received a Master of Environmental Studies with a concentration in Environmental Engineering and Technology from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master of Science in Sustainability Management with a concentration in Environmental Finance from Columbia University, and is a former Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree.