September 2008 | Commentary | Supply Chain Perspectives

Keeping Our Heads Above Water

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Water is one of the world's biggest challenges. There is plenty of it, but it is often in the wrong place (favored industrialized nations), at the wrong time (a hurricane or flood), and in the wrong form (polluted or invaded by salt).

Poor logistics, supply chain, and financial management, with some political issues thrown in, further complicate the problem.

U.S. citizens use an average of 380 liters of water daily; Germany uses 129 liters daily, while developing countries use up to 30 liters. Can countries like the United States use less water, or at least find the means to share more?

Worldwide, every person needs more than two quarts of drinkable water daily, which equals 11 billion liters. Industrialized nations with a smaller percentage of the world's population use more than non-industrialized with far larger populations.

Global water consumption is still increasing but the sources are diminishing. We are reaching a breaking point.

An estimated nine children die every minute from water-related issues such as dehydration, cholera, typhoid, and diarrhea. The highest-risk countries are located in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. This widespread water problem will wear away people and societies one drop at a time.

One solution to more equally distributing water around the world is creating a better set of global supply chains with data that can be checked without political intervention. Organizing a plan to deliver water by truck, boat, or pipeline is premature if the data is faulty.

We also need to examine the paradox surrounding the cost and delivery of liquids. For instance, people in an average U.S. city pay about $4 a gallon for gasoline; truckers pay $5 a gallon for diesel. The average cost of bottled water is $6 a gallon. Bottled water and at-the-pump gas have significantly different supply chains.

Why?

The following series of steps is a start to addressing the water problem.

  1. Find out how much water is available in each country.
  2. Determine what resources are available in each country.
  3. Identify the barriers to delivering water and increasing water use.
  4. Map out how water is delivered to each area, and by what means.
  5. Select the water delivery method that makes the most sense based on location—pipeline, truck, or a combination.
  6. Find and repair existing natural aquifers worldwide.
  7. Develop a sustainable set of supply chains that provides potable water to those most in need.
  8. Create sustainable funding and maintenance of these supply chains.
  9. Locate people who can create water technology, study hydrology, and plan continuous water resource measurements globally.
  10. Find a way to fund water research globally.
  11. Study desalination, bottled water distribution, and recycling.
  12. Develop water conservation through intelligent control of industrial and consumer pollution, and recycling omissions.
  13. Study the use of empty containers moving back to China. Could they deliver water?
  14. Assemble a team of supply chain experts to plan and execute the use of existing businesses and services that already distribute water.

Then sit back, enjoy a bottle of water or Snapple, and relax.

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