Drinking Blue Gold All Day in Nairobi – Without the Hangover

I spent all yesterday drinking in celebration of a major holiday, and I feel great today.  No, it's not March 18 and the beverage was not green beer, or even Jameson's.  Today is March 23 and my drink of choice was water,  in recognition of March 22 – AKA World Water Day.  The flagship celebration in Nairobi, Kenya was hosted by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the government of  Kenya, UN Habitat, and the UN  Secretary General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.

UNEP released  it's report Clearing the Waters/ Focus on Water Quality Solutions, which noted that an investment of  US$20 million in low cost water technologies could lift 100 million families out of extreme poverty.   The report points out the already severe consequences of pollution:

 -Globally, 2 million tons of sewage and industrial and agricultural waste are poured into the world's waters every day;
-At least 1.8 million children under five years-old die every year from water-related diseases, or one every 20 seconds;
-Every day, millions of tons of inadequately treated sewage and industrial agricultural wastes are poured into the world's waters;
-More people die as a result of polluted water than are killed by all forms of violence, including wars;
-Over half of the world's hospital beds are occupied with people suffering from illnesses linked with contaminated water.

 Clearing the Waters recognizes that its almost always cheaper to prevent pollution than to clean it up, and emphasizes the urgent need to improve and safeguard water quality:

-Human health, the planet's ecosystems, our livelihoods, and our future all depend on clean, safe water - yet every year, the world's lakes, rivers, and deltas take in the equivalent of the entire human population - the weight of 6.8 billion people - in the form of pollution.
-In the last three decades of the 20th century, populations of freshwater species fell 50 per cent on average, a rate two-thirds greater than that of terrestrial and marine species. In recent years, the biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems has been degraded more than any other ecosystem, including tropical rainforests.
-One of the most significant sources of water pollution is lack of adequate sanitation. Worldwide, the World Health Organization and UNICEF estimate that 2.6 billion people - 280 million of them children under five - live without improved sanitation, and each year more than 1.5 million children die from diarrhea caused by infectious waterborne diseases. -It is a crisis of local challenges with global repercussions.
Worldwide, it is estimated that industry is responsible for dumping 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge, and other waste into waters each year. New contaminants, such as discarded pharmaceuticals, also threaten water quality and human and ecosystem health.
-The planet's most widespread water-quality problem is nutrient enrichment. Largely caused by nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural runoff and human and industrial waste, nutrient enrichment results in excessive plant (principally algae) growth and decay that robs the water of oxygen needed for many aquatic organisms to survive.

 Some of UNEPs focus is on the impact water has on the poor in emerging markets, but that's not the whole story.  The bullet points include health problems that can attack every level of society, and problems that can make it impossible to establish or sustain many types of business.  With this kind of impact, wouldn't private capital be attracted to clean water resources?

 According to Seeking Alpha: “Water has emerged as the new “new” thing in investing. People gaze out at a growing global population and envision the Kevin Costner flop Water World come-to-life. They do the math on limited water resources and creeping pollution and they see dollar signs. There’s even a new name for the stuff: blue gold.”
Two new water ETFs came to market last week First Trust ISE Water Index Fund (FIW) and Claymore S&P Global Water Index ETF (CGW).  A third, PowerShares Water Resources Portfolio (PHO), started in December 2005 and now has over $1.6 billion in assets.

The ETFs may not be peddling themselves as socially responsible, and they certainly aren't focused primarily on lifting those 100 million people out of poverty,  but moving capital into water resources is a step in the right direction, and maybe even a good investment.

Photo Credit: Snap