In anticipation of World Water Week next week, news on aqueous gloom and doom abounds. This is, um, not comforting:

Cholera may return to London, the mass migration of Africans could cause civil unrest in Europe and China’s economy could crash by 2015 as the supply of fresh water becomes critical to the global economy.

That’s nearly as frightening as Snakes on a Plane (all the hype surrounding it, not the movie itself).

But seriously. By 2015? That’s damn soon.

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Analysts from 200 of the world’s largest companies, brought together by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, made the grim forecast, also predicting (hoping?) that water scarcity will spur better management and water-saving technologies. As a third of the world’s population already lives where water is overused or inaccessible, future conflicts over water are virtually inevitable.

The analysts, who took three years to study future water availability, came up with three potential future scenarios:

1. Misery and shortages in the megacities and drought in Africa

By 2010, 22 megacities with populations larger than 10 million face major water and sewerage problems. The situation is gravest in China, where 550 of the country’s 600 largest cities are running short. Growing demand for water by industry leads to serious over-exploitation with less and less water available for consumers and farmers. This leads to a fall in Chinese food production, which in turn leads to more imports and impacts on other countries. Friction and unrest grow worldwide as the middle classes struggle to pay bills. Businesses are exposed to charges of moral culpability and litigation over water use. Waves of immigrants flood in to Europe from increasingly drought-torn Africa.

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2. China leads recycling rush as world moves to a new hydro economy

By 2010, the water shortage in many developing countries is recognised as one of the most serious political and social issues of the time. Lack of water is stopping development and in many countries the rural poor suffer as their water and other needs take second place to those of swelling cities and industry. Local government worldwide is increasingly distrusted over water allocation, and historical divides between rich and poor are exacerbated by water shortages. However, by 2025 a worldwide hydro economy is developing, led by China. Vast new investments are made in recycling water and the cost of desalination is greatly reduced. Innovative small-scale water treatment processes become the norm.

3. Water is the means of social control as floods and disease devastate world

Water becomes a key symbol of protest around the world and is seen as the most serious social and political issue of the generation. By 2015, multinational companies are accused regularly of taking too much water in developing countries, cholera breaks out in London, and governments start to use water as a form of social control, subsidising some sectors and rationing it to others. Great floods follow each other in quick succession. Deforestation leads to massive mudslides in Asia and increasing flooding affects Europe, damaging industry. A second New Orleans flood destroys the city again. Global focus grows on the “export” of water via crops such as wheat or fruit.

Um … I pick number two.

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