Water supply of the future: If water privatization became reality

Sustainability and climate protection | trends of technology | Worth knowing | How will our water supply develop in the future? What are the driving trends of these developments? And which technologies could play a vital role in this? To answer these questions, our foresight experts look into an alternative future. This time we present our third possible scenario – a fictional future in which water privatization makes premium drinking water the privilege of high-income earners.

Like every morning, Josefina has today gotten up shortly after sunrise to obtain a little water somehow for her eight children and herself. She is now standing with hundreds of other people in a long line outside a Latin American Water Corporation selling station on the northern outskirts of Mexico City. Soldiers guard the entrance to the building, which has bars on the windows, and only a small number of people are allowed to enter it at a time. The display board shows “15 coins per liter.” The current daily price is set by WAPEC, a Vienna-based organization that brings together the world’s water-producing nations.

In this fictitious future scenario, drinking water is no longer readily available. Corporations are dictating how much water people can buy at what price – a consequence of water privatization.
In this fictitious future scenario, drinking water is no longer readily available. Corporations are dictating how much water people can buy at what price – a consequence of water privatization.

Premium water is only affordable for the upper class

Those who can afford it do not buy cheap standard water of often questionable quality but premium liquid, which, however, costs ten to a hundred times as much. It is sold in chic “water boutiques,” where lines never form and where customers can expect a top-class service – a result of water privatization. These outlets also offer connoisseurs “vintage water” from France or Japan, which is stored in cellars like fine wine and sold by the bottle at horrendous prices.

In this version of the year 2030, climate change has decimated freshwater resources worldwide.
In this version of the year 2030, climate change has decimated freshwater resources worldwide.

Dystopia 2030 – water privatization becomes reality

In Josefina’s world, the predictions of many Hollywood dystopias around the turn of the millennium have come true: water has become scarce, and due to water privatization efforts, a handful of big companies have divided the small number of sources up among themselves and defend access to them with every means available. Since the great financial crash, the global standard of living has fallen, and nobody is investing any longer in the outdated public infrastructure. The state is weak, and in the struggle for water the “might is right” principle prevails.

The food supply situation is not so different: A monopoly on this rests in the hands of a small number of companies that have access to water. Private gardens are now found only in the heavily guarded residential complexes of the super-rich.

Back to the pollution of the industrial revolution

While she waits in line for her daily water ration, Josefina thinks about her husband, Oscar. She has not seen him for months, since he went to the USA to work in a coal mine. The renaissance of that cheap source of energy after the failure of the climate negotiations has created a lot of jobs and sent thousands of Mexicans northward. Oscar is able to send a good 500 coins home every month, just enough to pay for water for his wife and children.

In this future dystopia, the nations of the earth have lost their influence in many areas. A financial crash has severely restricted their freedom of action. The infrastructure is decaying more and more.
In this future dystopia, the nations of the earth have lost their influence in many areas. A financial crash has severely restricted their freedom of action. The infrastructure is decaying more and more.

However, it may soon no longer be sufficient, as WAPEC representatives are right now negotiating on new water prices at their summit in Vienna. The latest rumor is “30 percent more for a liter!” “How on Earth am I going to pay that?” Josefina wonders as she walks past the soldier into the water-selling station with her empty plastic bottles.

A look into the future of our water supply

However, it may soon no longer be sufficient, as WAPEC representatives are right now negotiating on new water prices at their summit in Vienna. The latest rumor is “30 percent more for a liter!” “How on Earth am I going to pay that?” Josefina wonders as she walks past the soldier into the water-selling station with her empty plastic bottles.

Of course, the world after 2030 may look very different (see our scenarios one and two) than it does in this story, which our futurologists developed as part of the foresight work on water management. As innovation manager, physicist Dr. Andreas Meschede coordinates the foresight process at thyssenkrupp. Here international experts design possible scenarios for the future, such as the development of mobility, the cities of tomorrow or the changing world of employment. The Group is already preparing today for possible developments in 2030 and beyond.

Foresight project: thinking about possible futures today

“With Foresight, we first arrange different images of the future in order to expand them into scenarios in a second step,” says Andreas Meschede. “In the end, we have the opportunity to find groundbreaking solutions for our customers.

This also applies to the question of water supply – a topic that will not only become pressing in the future but is already much discussed. “It is a basic requirement for every state to provide its citizens with sufficient water. It is not without reason that many people talk about the human right to water in current debates. As a technology group, and especially with our solutions for sustainable agriculture, this question is of crucial importance for us and our customers.”

For the very first workshop on the subject of tomorrow’s water supply, the Foresight team met at the “Aquarius” – a former water tower and today’s museum located in Mülheim, Germany. This direct reference was enormously helpful for the experts, Andreas Meschede says in retrospect. “In this way, we were able to first understand the present at first. And from there, we developed towards the future.”

Andreas Meschede: first steel innovator, then foresight manager

“I joined thyssenkrupp’s steel division in 2011. Back then, I solved problems,” Meschede tells us. “Then in 2015, I began to identify problems and future needs.” As innovation and foresight manager, his focus shifted from the concrete to the abstract, and from the present to the future. A worthwhile change of perspective, as the expert say, who also benefits from his previous experience. “I think that it is very helpful for my work to know the technical, operative work with the customer, too. And to know what his needs are.”

Foresight series on water supply: three scenarios – three alternative futures

The story of Josefina is only one of three possible scenarios for the future of our water supply. In their dystopian world, companies have used the weakness of politics to their advantage and privatized the water supply in order to generate as much economic profit as possible. You can find out which alternative versions the future could hold in store in our Foresight scenarios one and two.

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