Lack of clean drinking water is a potential cause of conflict, a major environmental challenge and, as we have seen after catastrophes such as Typhoon Haiyan, also pose a severe health hazard to the populations affected.
In total, 40 per cent of the world’s population are already experiencing water shortages, with the United Nations predicting this figure will rise to two-thirds by 2025.
The Asian powerhouses of China and India are particularly vulnerable.
“It is difficult to imagine that water is a scarce commodity when there is approximately 1.4 billion cubic km of water covering the Earth’s surface,” says Richard Allan, Chief Technology Officer at the Asia Scotland Institute and former Chief Scientist with Scottish Water. “However, we have to bear in mind that the vast majority of this water is held in the oceans or ice, leaving just 100,000 cubic km of fresh water (less than 1 per cent of the total) accessible to the ecosystem and humans”.
Scotland has its fair share of this total – 90 per cent of the UK total in fact.
Expertise in water management
And the country is renowned for its expertise in water management, purification and sanitation. Consequently, the Scottish Government is committed to making Scotland a Hydro Nation.
Diane Duncan, head of Low Carbon at Highlands and Islands Enterprise, told me about the initiative: “The Hydro Nation is a concept that allows Scotland to put a spotlight and a value on all the water assets in Scotland, but not just the obvious ones.
“We have, for example, world-class laboratories at Scottish Water and the Hutton Institute; we train some of the best engineers and scientists in the world; and we have growing SMEs with the potential to grow exponentially.”
Many of these companies are already delivering on their international aspirations, such as Forres-based Biomatrix Water – cleaning up canals in Manila with floating water treatment systems camouflaged by lush foliage – Atlantic Water, Drylube, and Dryden Aqua.
Dryden Aqua last month opened its new facility in Bonnyrigg, which recycles green glass bottles into a highly-specialised water filtration media, AFM®.
Thjis highly innovative system is at present removing pollutants such as arsenic, chromium, and manganese from drinking water in Africa, Europe and India.
More than 250 million Indians are exposed to water that exceeds the WHO limit for arsenic.
Clean drinking water
Dryden Aqua can process 40,000 tonnes of glass a year – a quarter of all the green bottles in Scotland. The company plans a second factory that will use all of the green container glass in the country.
Instead of being sent to landfill or being used at the low end of the market as an aggregate, Dryden Aqua turns the recovered glass into a valuable product that provides clean drinking water around the world. “I am a marine biologist and what I really care about is getting water clean – really clean,” says Dr Howard Dryden, the company’s founder and MD.
“The people of the Philippines, for example, will be exposed to all sorts of dangerous substances in their water and Scotland as a Hydro Nation can offer its technologies as a solution to help.”
Half the population of Bangladesh (180m people) also have very high arsenic concentrations in their drinking water but perhaps of greater concern is the pollution caused by the textile industry in that nation, which accounts for 50 per cent of the country’s entire economy and is worth about $60billion (£36.6bn).
Salts and dyes used in the textile dying process can cause serious aquatic pollution. But Dryden Aqua is now helping to deal with this problem by supplying treatment systems to the industry.
Scotland also needs this technology at home. “Nine out of ten water treatment works are in rural areas and the costs are unsustainable for Victorian infrastructure,” adds Diane Duncan.
“Companies like REAqua and Water Wizard have products that could help save the public purse. Scotland has much to be gained from treating its water with respect.”
It seems that Scotland leads much of the frontier thinking on water management and the Asia Scotland Institute is very much looking forward to working on a planned conference in Scotland next year that will showcase the advances made in the nation to guests from Asia and elsewhere.
The conference will also bring together experts and practitioners from around the world to examine best practice in water management.
At a time when the world faces seemingly intractable issues it seems entirely appropriate that, with its tradition for creative industries and innovative thinking, Scotland should be at the forefront in reaching out to Asia and beyond, delivering expertise and technology not locally available – delivering the Water of Life.
• Roddy Gow is Chairman & Founder, Asia Scotland Institute www.asiascot.com