Truth lies in water

[b]Gold, oil and gas are not the only treasures on the global market. Economists assert that, in 10-15 years, drinking water could become even more valuable than oil. The lack of water is one of the most serious problems of our modern times, and may place humankind on the edge of survival. Over 90 percent of the water on the planet is saline; drinking water accounts for just 3 percent of all deposits [/b]Migration already takes place due to lack of water, with over 20m people leaving their homes annually. Scientists say that, by 2050, over 75 percent of the Earth’s population could be fighting for water. Belarus is among the few states rich in water resources, which could bring the country huge dividends from water exports.
Gold, oil and gas are not the only treasures on the global market. Economists assert that, in 10-15 years, drinking water could become even more valuable than oil. The lack of water is one of the most serious problems of our modern times, and may place humankind on the edge of survival. Over 90 percent of the water on the planet is saline; drinking water accounts for just 3 percent of all deposits

Migration already takes place due to lack of water, with over 20m people leaving their homes annually. Scientists say that, by 2050, over 75 percent of the Earth’s population could be fighting for water. Belarus is among the few states rich in water resources, which could bring the country huge dividends from water exports.

Land of lakes and rivers
Belarus boasts over 10,000 lakes, over 20,000 rivers and lakes, about 1,500 ponds and 150 water reservoirs. Its land waters comprise 58 cubic kilometres, while natural underground resources of drinking water total 16-18 cubic kilometres. In fact, Belarus only uses 3-3.5 percent of its water annually: enough to satisfy the needs of the population and the economy.
The average European person consumes around 120-150 litres of water daily, while a Belarusian might use up to 200 litres. The First Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, Vitalty Kulik, notes that water quality is a key issue for the country. Belarusians primarily drink water from underground sources, except for some districts of Minsk and Gomel (where land waters are used as well). Over the past 10-15 years, much has been done to ensure the high quality of drinking water, with de-ironing stations constructed, alongside purifying facilities, drainage and water supply intakes, and new pipes laid. In 2006, a Presidential decree approved a state programme for water provision and discharge — Clean Water — running from 2006-2010. It has cost about Br700bn.
Of course, it would be unwise to ignore the rich natural reserves our country possesses. With this in mind, exports of bottled drinking water are under much discussion. Many might think that only remote Sahara or Asia need water, but our neighbouring Ukraine lacks drinking water; its available resources are much polluted. The country’s major water artery — the Dnieper River — has 50 large industrial centres along it, in addition to several nuclear power stations and dozens of industrial and agricultural facilities. They all use the Dnieper’s water, while dumping their industrial and drainage waste back into the river. In a few years, Ukraine will need to import drinking water. Across Europe, dozens of millions of people lack access to pure drinking water. Even in Russia — which occupies first place in the world in terms of its drinking water reserves (accounting for over 20 percent of global volumes) — rivers and lakes are polluted, producing a lack of adequate drinking water.
With this trend in mind, the sales market for Belarusian water is unlimited. Millions of Dollars of profit are ‘laying on the ground’. President Alexander Lukashenko stressed during his April Address to the Belarusian Nation and the National Assembly, “Last year, we sold $3m of mineral water. It’s evident that the geography of our sales, as well as volumes, should be significantly expanded. Taking into consideration the global market situation, this should bring good dividends to our country.”

Goldmine
Every year, demand for bottled mineral and drinking water rises by about 20 percent worldwide. Belarus has every chance to conquer the European market, since it has over 200 water deposits of different chemical and mineral composition; meanwhile, we only use about 100 of them. According to the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Ministry’s Geology Department, over 80 deposits of high quality underground water have been discovered countrywide. These are perfect for making bottled water, with almost no preliminary processing required. For example, water reservoirs near Brest, Grodno and Minsk could be used as sites to produce bottled water.
Two years ago, the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Ministry proposed investment into the development of water deposits. Dozens of CIS and non-CIS states showed interest but the global economic crisis interrupted their plans. Demand for water dropped and some promising partners — able to invest up to 15m euros in setting up a plant to produce bottled water — were obliged to put aside their plans. Experts continue to note that it would be a profitable business, ensuring a full financial return within 5-7 years.
Spring water reserves are almost inexhaustible. Importantly, Belarusian water meets all international standards and can easily rival foreign bottled water, offering good value for money. However, so far, exports have been insignificant. In 2009, Belarus produced about 250m litres of water, while selling only 7 percent abroad: 18m litres, worth $3.2m. Among the major customers were Lithuania, Russia and Latvia, in addition to Estonia, Azerbaijan and Canada.
The Belarusian Statistical Committee says that, this year, demand for Belarusian water has risen abroad. From January-September 2010, our domestic producers supplied almost 9 percent more water than in the same period of the previous year. Importantly, prices rose, with foreign currency revenue rising by 14 percent. The trend looks even more optimistic when we take into account that Belarusian brands have difficulty in accessing foreign shops and enjoy little advertising.
With the aim of using its water potential more thoroughly, Belarus is relying on the establishment of new production facilities — using its own funds and foreign investments. Not long ago, a workshop for bottled drinking water production was set up at Baranovichi Vodokanal (overseeing water supply). This can produce 4.8m litres annually: 6.5 times more than before. Similar projects are being realised at Rechitsa Vodokanal, Svisloch District Consumer Co-operative and Krinitsa JSC, in the Nesvizh district.
According to the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Ministry’s press service, in early 2010, the Ministry concluded agreements with foreign investors to mine and bottle drinking water (worth 26m Euros). Last year, the Ministry’s Geology Department sent potential partners information on setting up joint ventures for bottled water production, stimulating manufacturing and the sale of ready-made products. The unique characteristics of our water exports were outlined and investors are already showing interest. Businessmen from Russia, Germany and the Netherlands are now studying investment opportunities in this sphere.
A draft water strategy until 2020 has been developed in Belarus, which Mr. Kulik believes to be vitally important. Although many state programmes dealing with water resources are being realised, a unified approach to their rational use is a new development. The strategy should enhance revenue from water supplies, while ensuring efficient use. Similar strategies to protect water resources are operational in most countries already. The EU has its water directive and some other documents dealing with the issue, while Russia adopted a water strategy in 2009. Belarus has now joined these states.

By Lilia Khlystun
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