Scotland’s greatest resource is rarely acknowledged

Our stocks of water make us a world leader, says Roddy Gow

As the debate rages about how and if Scotland would survive either as part of the UK or as an independent nation, the focus has been on currency and the size of oil reserves as a source of revenue. Nowhere has Scotland’s great liquid asset been mentioned or caught the public’s attention – not whisky but water.

Water and the Security Challenge It is widely recognised that amongst the earth’s great challenges is the growing scarcity of safe drinkable water. Population growth, economic pressure and climate change all pose growing threats. These affect vital security issues and create tensions that many believe could result in open conflict.

In a 2012 Assessment on Global Water Security, the US Intelligence community warned that water problems could destabilize countries in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia over the next decade. The assessment identified that increasing demand and competition caused by the world’s rising population and scarcities created by climate change and poor management threaten to disrupt economies and increase regional tensions.

It concluded that while wars over water are unlikely in the coming decade, countries could use water for political and economic leverage over neighbours and that major facilities like dams and desalination plants could become targets of terrorist attacks, presaging this month’s battle for Mosul Dam in Iraq and growing tensions between India and China over the diversion of water flowing from the Himalayas.


What are the hard facts?

In a UK Water Research and Innovation Partnership (UKWRIP) Report published this year the following startling facts emerged:

  • At least 1.9 billion people currently rely on unsafe water
  • 4.1 billion people rely on unsafe sanitation
  • 1.7 billion people are threatened by shrinking groundwater resources
  • 36 per cent of the world’s population lives in areas affected by extreme water stress—set to rise to 52% by 2050
  • Six per cent of deaths worldwide and nine per cent of time lost due to ill health stem from inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene
  • Water resources worth $9-24bn are squandered each year due to leakage and other losses
  • The global “risk to business” from insecure water supplies totals $400bn.

The report estimates that the world’s required expenditure on water and sewerage to 2050 amounts to £5,188bn.

In the six-year period to 2020, the opportunities in global, water-related market sectors identified by this report amount to more than £30bn.


Scotland’s Other Liquid Resource

The Water Resources (Scotland) Act 2013, passed with cross-party support, made it the Scottish Government’s duty to ensure that the economic opportunities arising from water are promoted.

The first annual “Scotland Hydro Nation Report”, laid in the Scottish Parliament on 20 August 2014, is ambitiously entitled Towards a Water Economy. It is right to be ambitious: the opportunities for a water-rich, water-savvy country like Scotland in a thirsty world are considerable.


The Opportunity for Scotland

While water-scarce countries such as Singapore and Israel are widely considered to be at the cutting-edge of water technology, a number of homegrown water-tech companies are having remarkable success in export markets, particularly in Asia. Bonnyrigg-based Dryden Aqua, for example, is already engaged on important water purification projects in Bangladesh and India.

Scotland is certainly not water-poor itself – Loch Ness alone contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. But water is of fundamental importance for Scotland’s economy, health, social wellbeing and environment. All businesses rely on it. It impacts on energy, manufacturing, food and beverages – not least whisky – and tourism.


Making it Happen

At the Asia Scotland Institute, we work to equip tomorrow’s leaders in Scotland with the knowledge and skills to engage with Asia. This includes heightening awareness of the unique and differentiating offerings of Scotland, one of which is the design and management of water projects for which the country has a growing reputation.

Scotland has done well to attract the XVth World Water Congress of the International Water Resources Association to Edinburgh in May 2015. It will also host the inaugural “aquaNOW Audiences, 2014-2015”, a series of seminars run by OOSKAnews, the world’s leading source of water-related news. Both these events will be web streamed to a global audience.

In the past, Scottish innovation and invention has led global change. If today’s greatest challenge is water, it is reassuring to know that Scottish researchers and companies are leading the international push to find solutions and creating opportunities for Scottish companies to export their knowledge and win overseas contracts, with significant benefits flowing down to our economy.