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Water - The Biggest Tradeable Commidity of 21st C

The IMF and World Bank says that water will be the biggest tradeable commodity in the 21st century. But are our politicians listening? John Howard reports.

While much of the world suffers from drought, water pollution and high salinity, the West Coast of New Zealand catches billions of litres of rain water each year with most of it running to waste in the Tasman Sea.

Parts of the the West Coast of the South Island, for example, get 3 metres of rain water annually. Not 3mm or 3 cm - 3 metres. To realise the importance of water to visitors from other lands, it is not unusual to see them standing under cascading water-falls fully clothed for lengthy periods and often frantically searching for a container to take some water with them on their journey.

In South Australia, the State Parliament was told yesterday that Adelaide residents will need to buy water or find new supplies because dry-land salinity is making River Murray water too salty to drink.

A CSIRO briefing told Parliament that 20 percent of the State's water resources are already above acceptable saline levels for human consumption. The cost of taking water from the River Murray is also set to soar through higher treatment costs.

This situation is essentially the same worldwide. A growing number of nations are facing real water problems.

What's wrong with this picture?

New Zealand, arguably, has one of the most treasured possessions in the world and yet it seems we let it flow to waste through lack of leadership and committment. One of the problems, of course, is getting it to market.

When large tankers travel the oceans empty they must have ballast for stability. That ballast is sea water which can present significant biological problems when tankers discharge the invariably polluted water from other seas into ours.

Here is another idea. The ballast could be large rocks which can be unloaded over the side by the ships' cranes where it anchors before taking on our water. Over time, a rock breakwater would be built up off-shore upon which a wharf could then be built and also act as beach protection from the sometimes wild Tasman Sea. Ships, including cruise liners, could then come inside the breakwater to discharge and load passengers or cargo. Obviously, some dredging would be necessary.

There are many West Coast areas of New Zealand who would benefit from this kind of inexpensive "created" port.

Take Hokitika. Earlier this century there were dozens of large sailing ships, mostly from Australia, anchored in the Hokitika River. It was the closest port to Australia and still is. Trouble is, Hokitika is no longer a port and overseas ships must take the more costly and time-consuming trip around to East Coast ports to discharge and receive cargo.

Have ports already been created by this method? Yep! In Japan, Canada and South Africa - but not for water exports. Moreover, in Japan they built a whole island in the sea for an airport from nothing.

Firstly, however, we need the political will and committment from our central and local government's. It seems to me many New Zealand politicians are asleep and live in a tax-payer funded comfort zone. We need a New Zealand VisionCorp or, at least, some real leadership.


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