The pressures on today's drinking water as a global resource can be looked at through several socioeconomic, geopolitical lenses.
The civil war that erupted in Syria began in 2011 with protests that turned into armed rebellions. A lack of water was the fuse lit by politically motivated water policies that drove farmers during a drought into urban areas. Expect more water wars to come, as the global population will swell to nearly 10 billion people, according to a UN report.
A greater threat to human health: The World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of global illness and disease are caused by contaminated water. How does that affect population in Third World countries? If children weren't getting sick as often or severely, then mothers would likely have fewer babies. But until that broken paradigm is fixed, demand for resources will continue to grow with population.
Part of the problem is education. Another is coming up with solutions at the local level. This applies to the United States, too.
Americans have a poor view and understanding of water issues here, while governments all over the world fail to regulate bottled drinking water.
People take tap water for granted in two ways. First, they overlook the aging infrastructure used to deliver water to the faucet, which brings metals and contaminants with it through decaying pipes. Second, homeowners believe using filters to clean at the point of drinking (POD) provides safe water.
"Carbon filters, which are used by 90 percent of our U.S. companies, do little more than improve the taste and remove chlorine," Kevin McGovern said.
The Numbers are Scary
"Are we going to wait for Congress to act or the world to spend $22 trillion to upgrade our failing global infrastructure system, which has been rated a D-minus by the Society of Civil Engineers?" McGovern asked in an interview, adding, "20 to 25 percent of the needed projects are related to water, according to a Booz Allen study. 75 percent of the U.S. infrastructure needs replacement. We're not going to spend that money -- emergencies consume infrastructure budgets each year."
In his view, we don't have to wait for something as big or complex as infrastructure projects to get off the ground to begin addressing the problem of water.
Kevin McGovern is a 25-year veteran entrepreneur and innovator of water filtration systems. He was a founder of SoBe Beverages (sold to PepsiCo). While serving as Chairman of McGovern Capital he was one of three owners of KX Industries, the inventor and manufacturer of many leading home water purification filters, including PUR to P&G and end-of-tap filter to Brita. KX also created and supplied the first refrigeration filter for Electrolux/Frigidaire.
I met Kevin McGovern when he spoke at the ninth annual Livingston Securities Nanotech Conference held in New York City. The seasoned professional has the passion of someone half his age, but a deep understanding of the issues related to water. He told me,
The WHO statistics are staggering. Those suffering from illnesses caused by water-borne diseases occupy about 50 percent of the hospital beds in the world, while 10 percent of the globe's GDP is dedicated to healthcare, much of which can be prevented with clean water. Everyday, up to 5,000 people die as a result, with 80 percent of the victims being children. -- McGovern
Water is the number one health issue in the world. As water resources diminish, demand will double over the next generation. So the problem is a double-edge sword. Not only is water a problem of quality, but quantity, too. You need effective solutions that don't waste water.
He went on to say that "Water facts are scattered around, non-existent, limited and intentionally not disclosed. Why? Governments don't want to scare people with too much negative information about the problem."
That didn't stop Syria from being cleaved in a brutal civil war. Much of the entire Middle East, and the world for that matter, are engaged in an escalating competition for water.
Water Education and Awareness
What are some of the challenges clean water faces?
"Education is a key issue. Think of it in terms of a macro generalization," he said. "We have a global issue that needs local solutions, or what we call 'Glocalization.' Point of Use (POU) or POD, as we call it, solutions need to address the global issues."
He brought up the chemical spill in West Virginia, saying, "Last year, a part of Montreal had contaminated drinking water, which was yellow. Without being there, I figure metals contaminated the water. So, Montreal tells people to boil water and they'll be fine. But the problem with boiling heavy metals is that they concentrate the contaminated metal -- "as opposed to eliminating them, or when boiling water removes bacteria.
"Peru has had 200 insurrections in the past couple of years, rioting about the state's water issues," McGovern pointed out. "To combat these conflicts, state officials need to launch awareness programs. And in America, that starts with mom and then children, as they inform their parents about the latest technology. It's not about scaring people; it's about educating them about the POD aspect of water and contaminant avoidance. We have to teach and supply solutions on the local basis."
The Water Initiative
The Water Initiative (TWI) is an emerging company with a solid foundation that extends to their partners with the "top material scientists and businessmen in the world" from MIT, Cornell, Singapore, and Monterrey Technology University in Mexico; PepsiCo; Coke.
Some of TWI's early success came from Mexico, where they partnered with local states and municipalities to take on fixing some of the most infamous drinking water problems in the western hemisphere. "We use a top down, bottom up approach. We reached out to Mexican politicians, and work with those who care, who want to solve some of Mexico's most severe drinking water issues, from pathogens and arsenic, to fluoride and other cancer-causing chemicals that lead to diabetes, heart disease, bone malformation, and brain damage."
Mexico's National Water Commission, Conagua, recommends TWI to any nation.
TWI works at the local level to test the water and diagnose the problem. From there they custom-design a collaborative solution. In Torreon, which is the ninth largest municipality in Mexico.
We designed a water purification system for 65,000 units that currently serve 50 rural areas and deliver fresh water to nearly 500,000 Mexicans. The solutions last five years, have no maintenance, and use no power. Because of our success there, we have been able to win five more bids. By the end of the year, we should be in 10 states, or about a third of the States of Mexico, serving up to two million people. -- McGovern
"We sponsored a third party study and found the satisfaction (97 percent of users) with our filters in Mexico has resulted in 91 percent of the residents paying their utility bills ahead of time. Out of 65,000 filters in use, we have experienced only seven returns." That is a remarkably low defect or error rate.
With the success of solving some of the "most severe water regions in the world, we have launched programs in the Mid-East and Latin America with local partners, installing customized solutions in hotels, schools, and residences in Saudi Arabia, Peru, and Columbia, and we are in discussions to expand into China and India, he said, "and customized solutions for Ghana," where old mines and arsenic in the water co-exist. "We will also be launching the finest portable filter in the world later this year."
That propels Kevin McGovern's quest to a healthier planet much quicker than large-scale water treatment and infrastructure projects. We have a saying, "We can get done in 20 months what can't otherwise be achieved in 20 years."