Last week I was able to do something that I hadn’t been able to do for several days. A very simple thing that most of us take for granted, and that was to use tap water to brush my teeth. When you’re traveling in South America, all of your water has to come from bottled or purified sources. There is no such thing as being served tap water in a restaurant, and none of the locals drink water that isn’t either bottled or boiled.
To really appreciate the relatively clean, safe water that flows out of the tap here in the U.S., you have to spend a few days in a locale where it doesn’t.
When you think of the infrastructure pipes, reservoirs, pumping stations and energy it takes to accomplish this, it is really quite overwhelming. Trillions of dollars will be required to provide the populations of developing countries with the benefits of potable, pathogen-free water of the sort that’s readily available to residents of more advanced nations. While this represents a big opportunity, just moving the water will require incredible amounts of energy. If it could be done using renewable sources such as wind and solar, that would sort of be like returning the favor, given how much energy water itself has generated throughout the world for more than half a century in the form of hydroelectric power. There is also some irony in the possibility that global warming could cause hydroelectric to vanish at the very time we’ll be needing more energy to bring uncontaminated drinking water to new urban areas.
Any way you look at it, however, supplying potable water will be a critical component of ‘going with the flow of development’ over the next 20 years, as once relatively backward locales begin to play ever more dominant roles on the global stage. Just how critical was something that the simple convenience of being able to brush my teeth without having to keep a bottle of water handy made me fully appreciate.