The US Geological Survey compares the water stored in the ground to money kept in a bank account. If the money is withdrawn at a faster rate than new money is deposited, there will eventually be account-supply problems.
This is the situation the world is facing now. Bangladesh too is on the verge of a serious freshwater crisis both for people and industries, as being surfaced in Chattogram.
Excessive pumping of groundwater has left wells useless, caused rivers and ponds to have less water and paved the way for saline water inland and underground.
The increasing salinity is a serious problem for Chattogram, the country's industrial hub, prompting the authorities to plan for fetching water from a faraway river and even to think about desalination plants.
Worldwide, industries use nearly 40% of total water abstractions, says a 2019 survey. Two-thirds of global manufacturing companies operating in the water-scarce parts of the world are reporting exposure to water risks.
Industries need freshwater as a fundamental commodity for almost every step of production – processing, fabricating, washing, diluting, cooling, etc.
Industries that use water heavily include food, paper, chemicals, refined petroleum, primary metals, and the semiconductor industry that manufactures components like chips for your computers, cellphones and automobiles.
For example, a single 8" wafer, which is the foundation for approximately 100 chips, may require up to 2,000 gallons of ultrapure water (UPW).
Paper mills need water in 85% of work in three stages – pulp making, pulp processing, and paper/paper board manufacturing.
For almost every food we eat and every product we use, there is a story of gallons of water. Many companies and their products will fail to exist without water. Water is not only a must for human life, it is fundamental for industries as well. As in the case of human consumption, water needs to be treated for industrial use too, whose cost adds to the growing cost of abstractions. Be it for drinking or agricultural or industrial use – saline water is not wanted.
Freshwater is not something to be used endlessly and thrown away as waste. It must be treated and reused. Global industrial giants are realising what they need to do to protect their businesses. Semiconductor industry – one of the major users of industrial water – is looking for ways to recycle, reuse and reduce the amount of water needed in the manufacturing process. The US firm Intel is developing its biggest water-reuse development in its new D1X factory in Hillsboro.
Industries are also raising efficiencies, requiring less water.
In the USA, data on water withdrawal and use at the county level is compiled into a national water-use data system every five years.
Industrial withdrawals were an estimated 14,800 million gallons a day in 2015, about 5% of total withdrawal for all categories of use. Surface water was the source for 82% of total industrial withdrawal, which declined 43% in 2015 from their 1985 levels.
Though major shifts of the US economy from manufacturing to service sector has led the decline, environmental regulations and limited availability of freshwater resources in some areas forced companies to check industrial withdrawal of freshwater from open sources and go for reuse and recycle. All these led to decline in self-supplied industrial withdrawal.
Desalination plant is an expensive option, which is advised not to be the first choice for water supply. But for obvious reasons, Gulf Arab states have long relied on desalination with 55-100% of their water supplied from some 850 desalination plants.
Iran also had to go for the costly option to transfer usable water from the Persian Gulf to water-poor provinces in central Iran. This national water transfer plan, which includes a number of feeder desalination plants, will cost as much as $285 billion to complete by 2025, according to a Foreign Policy article. The desalinated water will supply heavy industries and agricultural sector, which accounts for 90% water use in Iran.
Iran also looks for regional water cooperation with its Arab neighbours as 12 Middle Eastern and North African nations are among the 17 most water-scarce states in the world.
Industrial and mining use of water in Iran has increased to 3% now from 1.2% in 2000, taking rivers close to drying up in some regions.
Indian industries have also started to realise the importance of water, its conservation and management. The apex body of Indian companies and businesses, the FICCI constituted a Water Mission and teamed up with Columbia University to promote water conservation and efficiency, and water recycling and reuse practices within companies.
It surveyed 27 major industrial sectors in India including food processing, textiles, energy, oil and gas, retail, pharmaceuticals, information technology and health services, to assess future water risks and devise ways for efficient use of the depleting natural resource.
The joint efforts will lead to a data-driven, judicious and equitable water security strategy for industrial sectors and long-term water policy in India.
Morgan Stanley points to the danger of the growing scarcity of freshwater for the global economy. "For corporations, policymakers, investors, and even consumers, now is the time to understand the core issues and engage with solutions to manage the growing risks to businesses, supply chains and even more acute vulnerabilities," it says, sounding an alarm bell for water-guzzling industries ranging from food companies to textiles to technology and steel manufacturers.
The alarm note must reach our industries and policymakers.