Water Development Paths, Climate Change, and Economic Growth
November 20, 2013 | In this Wrigley Lecture, Dale Whittington reviews 100,000 years of investment and innovation along water-development paths to explain this predicament. He identifies three ancient behavioral responses that complicate our ability to improve water and sanitation services and are an obstacle to sustainable economic growth.Related Events: Water Development Paths, Climate Change, and Economic Growth
This presentation is brought to you by Arizona State University's Global Institute of Sustainability and a generous investment by Julie Ann Wrigley. Wrigley Lecture Series-- world-renowned thinkers and problem-solvers engage the community in dialogues to address sustainability challenges.
Dale Whittington: Thank you, Michael and Rob. It's a great pleasure for me to be here. Michael didn't say how long we've been friends, but it's been 38 years, so that's a--
Moderator: Who's counting?
Dale Whittington: Who's counting? That's right. I'm going to start tonight with a short four-minute video. And then I'm going to begin my lecture.
-A perfect strike. But can the young croc hang on?
-A nursing mother must have water, but she takes a terrible risk to get it. The mother has torn herself free. But the baboons can see that another croc has her baby. The croc will lose its prize to the others unless it leaves the pool.
But when she does, a big baboon is lurking. The croc drops the baby, but the brave rescue is too late.
-The hole is transformed into a refreshing pool. Franz and I crouch nearby and watch an amazing scene. First, one male appeared and entered the pool. Chimps aren't supposed to like getting into water, and going in and crouching waist deep is a behavior that has never been seen anywhere else. But it was so hot, and the chimps were so thirsty, that the water hole became irresistible. Five males piled in at once, all aggression set aside. The pool was like a [INAUDIBLE].
Then Old Ross came in. He's the oldest chimp in the group, perhaps in his 40s, and his hearing and sight are nearly gone. He stays close to the water now, and heavy chimps leave him his peace.
Later, females and young ones came to the pool, including two-year-old Fanta. This was a first visit to the water hole. First, she tested the water with a leaf. And then we watched her discover her own reflection. Self-recognition used to be something we said set humans apart. But as we watched Fanta play with her reflection, we can only wonder what goes on in her mind.
Dale Whittington: So in my lecture tonight, I'm going to try to connect the dots between the baby chimpanzee and the baboon in the video and our challenges in municipal water and sanitation in developing countries.
We really do live in extraordinary times. This is a graph of world population from 8,000 BC up to 2000, and it's a glimpse in history that we're in right now. Last week, I was going to Washington and I had a taxi cab driver from Kenya pick me up. He was born on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. He Googled me before he picked me up to see who I was. He went and talked to me on the way to the airport. And so it's remarkable. He does public radio interviews for Kenyan television and radio from North Carolina.
So we live in an extraordinary time. The students here tonight will live to see the world's population increase from about 7 billion to 9 to 10 billion before it plateaus. So things are changing rapidly, except in the water sector. So what I want to do tonight is look backward in history to identify what I'm going to call three ancient instincts. You can think of it as innate behavioral responses that I think greatly complicate our ability to tackle water and sanitation problems for billions of people in the world today.
Two of these instincts are hinted at in the video. One is our dependency on drinking water and, I will argue, our intuitive reluctance to assign prices to drinking water, and this might serve as an obstacle to access. And the second is water as a source of relaxation and aesthetic well-being. And I'm going to come to the third ancient instinct shortly. And I'm going to argue that we need to think very carefully about these three instincts if we're going to solve water and sanitation problems in a world of 9 to 10 billion people. I don't intend to try to prove that tonight. I'm merely going to suggest some things to think about.
So when we reach a global population of 9 to 10 billion people, about 75% of the world's population will be living in cities. This is a map of the global population density today. Many of these megacities are going to be in the Global South, and many of them in Asia. This is a map of population density forecast for Asia in 2035. This is 2090. And probably something on the order 300 million to 400 million people are going to be living in the coastal megacities of Asia-- Karachi, Mumbai, Chennai, Calcutta, Dhaka, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Shanghai, Manila. And these cities are going to be on the front lines of efforts to deal with climate change, sea level rise, higher temperatures, typhoons. Actually, the typhoon Haiyan actually missed the largest cities in the Philippines. You could hardly draw a better path through the Philippines for this typhoon and it still created havoc.
Bangkok wasn't so lucky in 2011. These are industrial estates north of Bangkok. I flew into Bangkok just before the 2011 floods arrived in the central city. Just as everybody else was going out, I was flying in, trying to set up a research project to measure the damages households suffered as a result of this flood. It looked like I was going to land in an ocean. One of the airports in Bangkok actually was flooded. I landed in the other one, and I felt like I'd seen a glimpse of the future. It was a world of smartphones, internet-- people were awash in water and information, and they actually didn't know what to do. I mean, they had so much information from so many sources, that they couldn't figure it out.
Something like 2 million children are dying in developing countries annually from water and sanitation diseases, and this is a, obviously, huge problem. But some recently published projections that my research group at UNC have done show that actually, water and sanitation deaths have been falling globally for the last 20 years, and are already very low everywhere except sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. WASH-related deaths are actually falling in South Asia, in the graph, but they are rising in sub-Saharan Africa.
This is a population density map for sub-Saharan-- or all of Africa. That actually looks a lot like Asia in terms of urban growth. And today, the international donors are largely focusing their aid efforts on rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. And as our projections show, that's where most of the deaths will be, but that's not where the economic action is going to be. Economic growth is going to be occurring in the cities.
These are population projections for Africa to 2090. And it's generally assumed that these megacities of the Global South are going to obtain the same technological complex of piped water and sanitation services that citizens here in Phoenix enjoy today. And so in this lecture, I'm going to explore how we came to this assumption. I'm also going to say a few things about water investments and economic growth.
And so economic growth theorists tell us that the majority of economic growth is due to technological change, so I'm going to look at technological change in the water and sanitation sector. This approach has the advantage that you can look at both economic collapse and technology, but I'm not going to have time to look at collapse tonight.
I want to give you a better idea of the scale of this challenge. The feces from 20 million people in a megacity will approximately fill this auditorium twice every day, day after day, year after year. And right now, in many developing countries, the collection of this feces is still carried out with buckets and trucks. And so on the right here-- and this photograph's a public latrine in Kumasi, Ghana. And on the left is the tanker truck that's going to clean this latrine.
I'm just going to give you a few pictures to show you how this is done. So these are the cleaners getting ready. And they're-- got their buckets, and they're going into the public latrine. The person on the left who's watching, wearing the rubber boots, is the government health inspector. The barefooted individuals on the right are the cleaners. Here's the latrine. Here's the task they've got to tackle.
If you're feeling uncomfortable looking at these pictures, we've identified the third of the three ancient instincts that I want to talk about in this lecture, and it's our reluctance to discuss and think about the disposal of human feces. We want it washed away with water supplies.
Here's the rest of this task of emptying this latrine. These buckets are then loaded on trucks, and the trucks go out to a landfill. This kind of feces handling is associated with many social and cultural inequities around developing countries. It's, of course, the job of the untouchables in the Indian caste system. It's easy to see why they're untouchables. Actually, Kerry Smith, who's with us here tonight, and I collaborated on this research in West Africa, but I could never get him interested in going with me to do the field work. And I could never figure out why I couldn't get him to do that.
So this is the technological complex that is being envisioned by the emerging megacities of the Global South. It basically has six attributes that I think are important, and I just want to run through them. Imagine you're a Martian coming to the world and you see this set of technologies that are used to provide piped water and sanitation services. First thing you'll notice is that most of these technological components date from the 19th century. But I'm going to argue that the vision of piped water sanitation services is much older than that.
Second thing about this is that globally, the system's expected to provide at least 150 liters per capita per day, 24/7, and all of it's potable. All of it's potable, but we only use about 5% of the water for drinking. That's sort of odd. And in places like Phoenix and many other industrial cities in industrialized countries, much of the wastewater is now treated to near-potable standards.
The [INAUDIBLE] thing about this complex is extremely path dependent. It's very hard to modify. And if you think about it, one of the reasons it's hard to modify is just the housing stock. About 20% of the cost of a house is in the plumbing. And that plumbing is delivering water that's all potable, and then mixing it with feces, and discharging it again.
Michael mentioned that he and I worked on the Hopi reservation. And the other thing that is important about this technological complex is it is extremely capital intensive, and most people have no idea what piped water and sanitation services cost. This is a picture of one of the Hopi villages we worked. What do you think? Just get a number in your head about what you think a household cost per month should be for piped water and sanitation services on the Hopi Indian reservation.
The actual cost is about $200 per household per month, and households pay about $10 per month. And this is actually the norm globally-- not the numbers, but the magnitude. In Egypt, where I've been working lately, piped water and sanitation services costs about $20 to $25 US per month, and households pay $1 or $2 a month. So globally, these prices are very low, and water utilities around the Global South are essentially bankrupt.
John Maynard Keynes reminded us of the value of liquidity as it helps us deal with uncertainty. And because these water utilities have no liquidity, they have no financial resources to deal with climate change. So you can just assume that water utilities around the Global South have no financial resources at all to deal with climate change. They actually need massive subsidies just to keep up with the water and sanitation services that they're trying to provide.
So how did we come up with this idea that piped water and sewer services are the best solutions for emerging megacities in the developing world? Related question-- is it worth changing this technological complex, shifting to a new water development path? And if so, how would one go about it?
I want to acknowledge some intellectual debts here as I get started. Brian Arthur's book on The Nature of Technology really explains how a technological regime evolves. And I've used this in my own mind to organize my thoughts about developments in a water path. It's really an evolution of ideas, technologies, and assets together. You have to move the whole complex to make progress.
We really have two water development paths in the world right now, one for municipal, and the other, I'll call it the water resources development path. And I'm going to argue that on the municipal side, there's really just one choice. There's only one thing. People all over the world are doing exactly the same thing.
And another intellectual debt I have is to Clayton Christiansen on The Innovator's Dilemma, his distinction between disruptive and sustaining technologies. And the easiest way to describe that, if you're a cyclist, is all your bicycles. The disruptive technology for cycles was the original idea of putting two wheels on a frame. That changed transportation choices. After that, it was all sustaining innovations.
Now, the sustaining innovations are very important. The key things on the bicycle are to get the pneumatic tires and the chain crank. After that, you have different variations that didn't work. And we actually had the racing cycle by 1928. Again, sustaining technologies that perfected the bicycle for one thing. So I'm going to note that there are very few disruptive technologies in the water and sanitation sector. I want to sort of reflect with you about that.
Finally, I'm going to use the term instincts, but it's rather loose. You can think of it as sort of innate behaviors. I'm not really trying to debate the relative importance of genetic versus environmental influences. But these are, I think, profound influences in our behavior.
I'm going to give you a brief history of the municipal water development path tonight, about five minutes on each of these four major periods. And it's going to go very fast, five minutes for 100,000 years.
I want to acknowledge that here at ASU, you've got global leaders, really, in understanding the origins of humans in ancient environments, especially Donald Johanson, Charles Redman, Larry Mays. I just offer the usual disclaimer. I benefited greatly from their writings, but they're not responsible for what I'm going to say this evening.
So this is a map of improved sanitation around the world. The red shows the worst areas, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. I'm not going to use this map to talk about sanitation. I want to just note that the evolutionary biologists estimate that a group of perhaps 100 to 150 individuals left East Africa something like 55,000 to 60,000 years ago, and we're all descendants of that one small group.
But before we left Africa, we had language and clothing. And as in the video about the chimps and the baboons, we relied on water holes for our daily drinking water, and this was dangerous. But water resources also provided opportunities for relaxation, recreation, cleansing, and pleasure. And I'm going to speculate that we left Africa, we'd already developed these very complicated, intense feelings about water.
In terms of a hierarchy of needs, obviously drinking water was the most important. But one of my messages tonight is that I think it's a mistake to imagine that water for pleasure and recreation somehow came much later. We have very strong emotions about pleasures associated with water, and our attraction to water for non-drinking aesthetic purposes is very old.
Just as an aside, global waterfront homes today command about a 65% price premium. It's pretty incredible. It's despite the fact that they have risk of flooding and drowning.
So I don't know how you feel about this idea of instincts. But just to give you an example of what I'm talking about, you may not feel we have instincts about water, but consider snakes. Lynne Isbell has argued that primates' ability to see colors and detect patterns have evolved in an arms race with snakes. She calls this snake detection theory.
So if you put chimpanzees in a cage-- maybe chimpanzees in a cage with a rubber snake, and there are no adults, the baby chimpanzees are really not afraid of the snake. But if adults come into the cage and start screaming at the rubber snake, the baby chimpanzees instantly get it. The instinct's triggered, and they understand immediately the snake is dangerous.
So I use this a lot in my teaching. So I carry a rubber snake in my suitcase, you know? I've scared a lot of TSA officials, and that's the instinct. They do they jump when they see this rattlesnake in my suitcase. I'm really not making this stuff up. There's a series of scientific articles on chimps, phobias, and snakes.
And actually, one of the most important and innovative approaches to the provision of improved sanitation services in rural areas in developing countries is based on this idea of triggering this instinctual response-- but in this case, to open defecation in human feces. So the technique is called community-led total sanitation, and it's a community organizing technique developed in Bangladesh by Kamal Kar. He's the guy in the suit on the right. And the idea is for change agents to trigger an instinctual disgust with open defecation.
This may sound simple, but it's the exact opposite of what the World Bank and everybody else in the donor business had been doing for decades, which was really to subsidize latrines. So Kamal Kar had a different approach to pricing. He had a different approach to pricing. He wanted people to build and pay for the latrines themselves after they concluded that they didn't want to live with open defecation practices.
I'm not going to go through all the techniques that he devised to trigger a disgust with open defecation, but the main idea was to get across the idea that you're eating your own feces with open defecation. So they do mapping of feces in communities. The people going out in the forest in the upper right are trying to draw maps of where open defecation occurs. And when the village stops the open defecation practices, the people are often very proud.
And they put a sign in front that this is an open defecation village. One of the signs in Bangladesh announced that girls in these community-led total sanitation villages will not marry men from open defecation villages.
So, phase two begins out of Africa-- hunting, foraging-- 60,000 to 15,000 years ago. The small group left Africa. They probably departed from the arid landscapes of East Africa, first traveled to other arid regions along the Arabian Peninsula. Probably followed the coastline around the Persian Gulf to the Indian continent, and from there, split back to Europe and Africa again.
And then we were great travelers, our ancestors, that we probably reached Australia on the order of 30,000 years ago, and North America perhaps 20,000 years ago. Interestingly, we were great travelers. And landscape architects and geographers have picked up on this, and they refer to innate mechanisms about how we assess landscapes.
And Jay Appleton at Reading University in the UK has a theory about how we respond to different habitats, called prospect refuge theory. And water's a central concern as to how we assess the landscapes that we're traveling in. The land near water is good. It shows good prospects for game and refuge in times of scarcity.
We were great hunters, and we managed to drive many large mammals to extinction with sophisticated stone tools and fire. The genetic evidence indicates that our prey was also other humans. We were great traders. We exchanged [? flant ?] shells probably for meat, animal skins.
But we didn't trade water. Water's what economists call a non-traded good, which means you can trade it over very long distances. And because it was difficult to trade, I'm going to speculate that our ancestors used it largely for hospitality and gifts, and then they protected it. So unlike traded commodities, for most of human history, water has not had a monetary price. And even today, the majority of the world has great difficulty thinking about assigning a monetary price to water. This is causing us great problems in megacities, developing countries today.
So our ancestors in phase two lived through a series of ice ages. On this graph, the CO2's in yellow at the top and the extent of the ice sheets is shown in blue at the bottom. So after leaving Africa, we had to face several ice ages. This is the far right in terms of the time periods. And all we could do then was retreat before the ice. We adapted to genetically to these climate fluctuations.
Again, I'll speculate we have a strong desire to understand our natural environment. Our ancestors were probably great storytellers, and the myths they told reflected water and climate. And I think that this has persisted into the modern era. In my work in developing countries, I'm often told about sacred springs. The work Michael and I did at the Hopi reservation, they have a complex cosmology about water and spirits of the ancestors returning to Earth in the rainfall.
We were great artists. We were great travelers, traders, storytellers-- but we were not great engineers. The archaeological evidence doesn't seem to reveal any water-related technological advances over this entire 50,000 years of hunting and gathering. Now, the fact that there's no evidence that I know of doesn't mean that hunter-gatherers didn't have some tools to carry water, but it's not in the cave or the rock paintings.
The other point that the archaeologists tell us is the innovations that worked spread very rapidly. The domestication of wolves, bows and arrows, spread very, very quickly. There doesn't seem to be any water-related technologies that followed a similar trajectory.
So, by the end of phase two, our answers are probably developed a reverence and fascination for nature in general, and water, climate, weather in particular. Water was a non-tradable good-- no exchange or monetary value. And during this period, we didn't experience any economic growth, and then we don't have any new water technology.
So then we entered a period from about 15,000 to 20,000 years of extreme cold. We had a 2,500-year period of warming, a second period of extreme cold, and then we entered the current era of warm temperatures, and that's phase three. We started to settle down in the Fertile Crescent in China. We domesticated wild grasses and livestock.
And this created three big water and sanitation challenges. New technologies were needed to address these challenges. The first challenge was we faced the problem of contaminated water supply. And then we faced new diseases, that we were in an arms race with new diseases. We had new problems of feces management that we never had before. And we had to figure out how to use water in agriculture.
One of the difficulties that early settled communities faced was the tension between locating an easily defensible military site and one that had a readily available water source. And two disruptive technologies emerged to address this problem. The first was fired pottery. It seems that pottery technology probably developed independently in several locations, perhaps first in Japan, about 13,000 BC. Quickly spread around the world. Pots were used for all kinds of things-- carrying water, and also cooking.
Just before I leave, that's a Hopi pot and a rattlesnake. Look at the pattern.
So pottery's still used all around the world. It was developed 15,000 years ago, and we see it used to carry water all over the world today. But even in industrialized countries, high-income countries, we remain fascinated with fired pottery into modern times. The Hopi pottery was one of the first things that Anglos wanted to buy from the Hopi village. Still is. Professor Hanemann himself has a budding collection of Hopi pottery, and probably is not the only ASU that likes this.
And contemporary artists working in other media are also interested in pottery. This slide actually hangs in my living room. It's a big textile piece done by my wife, who's here with me this evening. Nancy?
Then the next disruptive technology was actually lined dug wells. And these wells enabled people to have a more reliable, high-quality water supply and to settle in more defensible locations. The earliest wells were discovered in the earliest settlements in the Fertile Crescent, and now we have hundreds of millions of wells all over the world today. We're still building wells at a very rapid pace. The technology didn't exist to pump the groundwater to the surface, so the water's been lifted by hand in some container, and that's still the case in many developing countries.
Interestingly, one of the biggest developments in water in developing countries in the last 20 years has been the arrival of Chinese contractors in sub-Saharan Africa. They came to build bridges and roads, and they discovered they could outbid American and European contractors. And they've cut the price of drilled wells in half in Africa. So millions of millions of wells are there still being drilled all over the world.
One of the effects of the Green Revolution in the Punjab was that actually, households had enough money to dig their own wells and install private hand pumps on their wells. So this is well technology is still evolving and had a huge impact, but it's very ancient.
Another disruptive technology was pipes to transport water and wastewater cheaply. The first sewers were made out of pottery in Mesopotamia. The Romans developed lead piping. In Europe, we actually use wooden pipes up until the 1500s, 1600s. The first pipes in London were wooden in the 16th century. The private water companies would have first introduced pricing systems, but they still had wooden pipes.
During this phase three, the other water development path on water resources and irrigation took off. These two paths sort of intertwine in different ways. My grandfather grew orange trees in the Rio Grande Valley, and he got his drinking water supply from rainwater plus the irrigation ditches. But often these two development paths sort of proceed in parallel.
In the water development path in Egypt, the Egyptians didn't have the ability to lift water, so the water had to flood to the fields in the flood season by gravity. Simple ways were invented to lift water, but they had to rely on human and animal power. And these were used in agriculture, and then the technology were also used in cities.
The water supplies had to be brought to the field by gravity. It wasn't such a problem in agriculture. But for cities, you could bring water in by gravity, but then you had to deal with the wastewater, and it was a much bigger problem in wastewater. And wastewater technology's always lagged water supply.
These water lifting technologies in Egypt lasted until the 20th century. I've seen them in fields in Egypt in my lifetime, and animal power. Of course, now this actual task of lifting water and irrigation is done by millions of diesel pumps in the Ganges Plain, lifting water to fields.
So what did rulers in phase three do with these technologies, these components of wells, canals, pipes? Well, the first cities were created, and water was an integral part of their design. And I think we see the early evidence of the strong attraction to water for aesthetic beauty and relaxation. This is an imaginative picture of the hanging gardens of Babylon. We don't actually know that it existed or where it existed. But Stephanie Dalley at Oxford, in her new book about the mystery of the hanging gardens of Babylon, says that in fact, they were real, they just weren't in Babylon. They were nearby. But whatever they looked like, the reason that we remember them today is that people took great efforts to make urban spaces beautiful using water.
The Romans in phase three developed civil engineering works to take advantage of elevation differentials. This is the Roman aqueduct in Pont de Gard. And the water was used for all three things. It was used for drinking; it was used for bathing and recreation; and it was used for feces disposal. So it addresses all three of these basic instincts that I talked about.
And if you actually look at the architectural drawings for these plans, the drawings themselves give equal weight to the private houses and the public baths. The public baths are here on top. The private houses are on the bottom. And of course, there were no prices. All this was delivered free, provided by the state.
And these Roman baths have been beautifully restored in different places. They are tourist attractions. This is the Roman baths in Bath, UK. They're beautiful. And if you think our preferences today are very different, these thermal baths in Bath, England, have been restored and are once again extremely popular for recreation and aesthetic uses.
And we also used the water for drinking. It wasn't for simple utilitarian purposes. We used these as displays of art. These are Roman fountains. And I've actually seen these same kind of attention to artistic beauty in the fountains in Kathmandu in Nepal. From a technological perspective, these are almost identical to the fountains in Ancient Rome, and they weren't designed for simple utilitarian purposes. It wasn't just Rome.
In 2009, I was fortunate enough to hike into Machu Picchu at sunrise. And I was doubly fortunate, because I found that the public water system had just been restored. And just like Rome, the rulers in Machu Picchu had created fountains to deliver water by gravity. They used the water to flush away feces and enhance the beauty of water in the cities.
This is Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. If you just look at the aerial view, you'll see water in all directions. But note particularly the lagoons in front of the temples on the left. I'm not an archaeologist; I'm an economist, but
I've been to Siem Reap and I have read the literature on this. The archaeologists are puzzled by exactly what was going on with this hydrological civilization. Certainly it seems that some of this water must've been used for irrigation, but there's things that are hard to explain.
So this is the main temple in daytime and at night. You just have to wonder if the purpose of the water in front of the temples might have been the beauty of the reflection on the right. I don't think it's an accident that these sites-- Rome, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat-- are among the most popular tourist destinations in the world today. These architects knew how to design with water.And on the second development path, the water resources path-- in irrigated agriculture, there was also a lot of attention paid to the aesthetic beauty of using water. This is the rice terraces in Bali, in Indonesia. They look the same in the Philippines, and they look very much the same in Peru. The Inca terraces-- beautiful.
So let me wrap up with phase three. At the end of phase three, toward the Renaissance onward, nation states tried to assert increasing control of natural resources and populations. So they conducted population censuses.
They assigned names to people. This was a big problem. They were trying to get control of their population. So there were actually islands in the Philippines where the Spaniards came through, and everybody on one side of the island starts with A in the alphabet, and then next villages, it's all B's, and the next, it's all C's. People didn't have Spanish names, so they had to get it assigned.
We used cadastral systems for land titling. We had forest management in Europe. The state tried to get a hold of the forest. What about water? It was the last of the great main natural resources that have effectively been controlled by the state. We're still struggling today.
Michael mentioned that I had the privilege of working on the strategic assessment of the Ganges Basin for the World Bank. I had been working on the Nile, and so the World Bank took the Nile team and said, oh, just do the Ganges. And I thought, oh heavens, you know? It's the most populous river basin in the world. I knew nothing about it.
But it turned out neither did anybody else. The agricultural use on the Ganges is a black hole. Nobody knows how much water is getting abstracted for irrigation on the most populous river basin in the world today. We shot this with satellites and measured evapotranspiration, but nobody really knew.
So let me move on to phase four, the Industrial Revolution to the present. So at the end of phase three, we actually had a historical vision of a piped water supply and water-based feces removal, but these services remain too expensive for everybody except the upper class, a few ruling elites. Everybody around the world was still hauling their feces with buckets and carts. We had the civil engineering works. We had the technological components. We just didn't have the money.
So the Industrial Revolution gave us that, and things took off. Starting in about 1800-- a little before in England and later in the United States and Europe-- millions of people experienced an extraordinary increase in the per capita income. And at the same time, water technology and investments increased dramatically in both development paths, both the municipal side and in the water resources side. So we had lots of new large-scale water resources development.
This growth fueled the capital expenditures in both paths. And then the water investments contributed to economic growth. And it's been very hard to sort out causation in this. We have the big dam buildings in the United States in the early and mid 20th century, and this is just still going on in developing countries today. China's building dams like crazy. Africa really is just underway now and just getting started.
So I want to just briefly describe the municipal water development path in the United States. We copied the UK largely. We started out in the 1850s. Our water systems in the United States were not that different from medieval Europe. We got our water locally from local water sources-- very few pipe systems, and there was no ice water collection system. We just had cesspools and privies.
On the water supply side, we built pipe systems, both private and public, in the 1860s, 1870s. And then another disruptive technology came in-- water closets and flush toilets. And this greatly increased household water use, and the state had to take action to build sanitary sewers to remove the wastewater. This was generally discharged in combined sewers, drainage plus wastewater. And these couldn't be treated. We didn't have the treatment technology to treat that wastewater, so the resource recovery was lost.
There was really no open discussion at the time of the adoption of these water-sealed toilets that were causing havoc in urban areas. And I would speculate, again, this is probably due to the cultural attitudes we had left over from our hunter-gatherer days. We just didn't want to talk about cleaning methods, feces, disposal, et cetera. We still don't.
The technological innovations were really quite modest in phase three. Really, our technological expertise was focused elsewhere. Then the state installed sanitary sewers starting in 1890s, and that created the polluted rivers. We didn't have a technology for treating the wastewater. And there was a debate-- what should we do next? And then chlorination came in, another disruptive technology, and that enabled us to continue polluting the rivers. So we didn't have to clean up the wastewater, because now we could chlorinate.
And then we had wastewater treatment plants. And we're going to have the 100th anniversary of activated sludge this April. The activated sludge plants were invented in Manchester at the Davyhulme wastewater treatment plant 100 years ago, and we've been building wastewater treatment plants ever since. There were lots of discussions about the economic benefits and the high cost of piped networks, the effects of economic growth on communities, but a lot of it was not very rigorous.
So this technological complex in phase four was closely linked to urban planning. Joel Tarr at Carnegie Mellon University is a historian of sewage collection and wastewater treatment. 1984, he said, "Since its introduction development, the existence of this capital-intensive system, regulated and governed by a group of special institutions and maintained by specialized professional group, has been accepted as an unchangeable element in urban America." That was 30 years ago.
Now, I actually have one home in an urban planning department. And when I first started teaching planning, the planning profession was closely linked to sanitary engineers. One of the great sanitary engineers in the world, Dan Okun, taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and he used to teach the planners. So there was a close relationship between the city design and water and sanitation technology, but this has largely been lost.
The engineers have become more and more specialized, and the planners have become less and less technical.
In 1923, the New York Conservation Commission reported that, quote, "Man can live without recreation, but could not and should not live without work. So in general, recreational purposes are subordinate to other uses of streams." Well, that's hard to argue with at one level, but we kind of gave up on integrating water into urban design. I'm going to come back to this my concluding remarks.
Just one more thing from Brian Arthur. He says, "Eventually there comes a time when neither component, replacement, nor structural deepening add much to performance. The technology reaches maturity. If further advancement is sought, a novel principle is needed." And he continues, "But novel principles cannot be counted on to arrive when needed. Even when they do, they may not easily replace the old one. The old design and the old principle tends to be locked in." And this is exactly where we are today with municipal water and sanitation infrastructure. We're building out 19th century technology in the megacities of the Global South. We're building it out very, very fast.
This is piped water coverage in China, Brazil, India, Nigeria, and Egypt. These are some projections from my research group. The sewers are lagged about one generation behind piped water. Sewers are the next big priority in many of the places that are just getting the piped water service.
So this is a good point you raise a question-- why are there so few disruptive technologies in the water and sanitation sector? Where does innovation come from? And I think part of the explanation relies on these three instincts that we still have left over from our hunter-gatherer days. We're not at the end of phase four yet, but where do we stand with these three instincts?
This is Beijing, by the way, but it's hard to tell. This looks like any megacity in the Global South.
We're still pricing water far below cost. In India now it's practically impossible to discuss tariff reform. We're still mixing feces with potable water supply before we remove it. It's water-based feces removal. And in the cities of the mega south, we're not using water for urban design, for relaxation, aesthetic purposes.
And again, I'm not saying that we should put recreational aesthetic uses ahead of public health. But we're treating all municipal water to potable standards, and this has had an unforeseen side effect that I don't think people have fully appreciated-- and it's because it's discouraged the use of non-potable water in urban design, because all of our water is treated to potable standards. We don't use it for urban design. And this has had, I think, large economic consequences, particularly in the future, as we move toward a high-tech services economy where people are going to want to be living in beautiful, interesting cities. It's going to become increasingly hard to recruit highly educated people to work in places like these megacities that are devoid of parks and all water recreation.
I actually know this firsthand. For the last several years, I've been recruited to move to the Manchester Business School, and my wife doesn't want to move to Manchester. It's just not pretty enough. Nancy, would you like to spend a sabbatical in Beijing? I don't even ask. I know it. I know we're not going to go to Beijing.
So I just want to conclude in a minute here with some green shoots. There are some interesting things happening in different parts of the world. I had the opportunity last year to see this award-winning project, the Wadi Hanifa restoration project in Riyadh. This was a garbage dump, and it's been turned into the central park, a beautiful area in Riyadh.
The wastewater from urban drainage was used to create this park. It's not the actual raw sewage. That goes another route. But this is all wastewater, and some of the remediation is done in stream. It runs for about 50 kilometers through the center of the city. And it's been a hugely successful new urban park. And it was not designed with potable water. It's been designed with wastewater. And I think that there's an important lesson there.
Wastewater was unpriced, but it's really a prime source for water for urban designers in the 21st century.
And another example, the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore was just finished last year. It's a beautiful new park already attracting thousands of Singaporeans and tourists, and built right downtown. And Singapore has capitalized on its waterfront for recreation and relaxation. And like Wadi Hanifa, it's made very effective use of its wastewater in the design of urban parks.
Well, this is your contemporary version of the hanging gardens of Babylon here in Phoenix. I'm not a golfer, but I'm imagine that these golf courses are beautiful. But I imagine that they're a detour on the water development path to urban design. The Arizona Center looks a little bit better, a little more promising.
Let me conclude with just a few summary remarks about what we've learned from this historical review of the municipal water and sanitation development path. First, our hunter-gatherer ancestors were unable to trade water, and we're still unwilling to price water today. It's a huge problem. The UN Declaration of Water as a Human Right is now widely used as an argument that municipal water services should be free. This has created chaos in my world. NGOs are now suing governments to provide free water in developing countries.
This reluctance to price water has created a wicked set of interrelated problems. There are few incentives to innovate. Utilities are bankrupt. They can't adjust to climate change. And they've been forced to rely on non-price conservation measures, which Michael has convinced me is not always a bad idea, but it's often a very blunt policy instrument for dealing with water. This is particularly ironic today, because this has happened in the era of big data management. Big data's opening up all kinds of opportunities to tailor price signals and other messages to urban water utilities, and nobody's using this technique at all in water utilities around the world.
Just second summary remark. This technological solution is not very aesthetically appealing. Steve Jobs wouldn't have liked it. It's done wonders for improving water quality in rivers, but it's ugly, capital intensive, and energy intensive, carbon intensive. This is the Blue Plains plant in Washington DC, right prime DC riverfront. So we need to think about a better way of integrating water into urban design. And the existing technological complex actually discourages that.
And third, finally, the triggering of our instinctual repulsion with our own feces has prevented us from thinking carefully about the disadvantages of mixing potable water with feces. We continue on this development path. We're building out these same 19th century technologies, just like the Roman emperors designed. It's kind of incredible, if you think about it. I mean, Roman emperors-- Caligula would have understood perfectly what's happening in Beijing today.
So, let me just conclude. How do we overcome instincts? First we have to talk about them, like we're doing tonight. We have to recognize that our behavior is still shaped by these ancient instincts. We need new visions of water and sanitation, and we need to nudge these visions along. And the School of Sustainability is a perfect place to do that.
But I would just warn you that the path dependency is really profound here. You don't want to get discouraged. You have to stay at this for a long time. You got to endure. It's not going to be an easy road to change this technological complex. Thank you very much.
Moderator: We have about 20 minutes of questions. If you have a question for Dale, please come up to the microphone that's right here in the middle of the stairs, and give your name, and then we'll-- good.
Anybody? Oh, Kerry, I know you've got a question.
Audience: Thank you for being here. I'm a grad student at the School of Sustainability. So, let's say, hypothetically, we started the presentation with your last slide rather than concluding there. What kinds of things potentially offer promise around the world? I've heard of waterless urinals. I've been to parks where I took a cup of sawdust or cellulose, and that was the human waste disposal system.
I've heard of humanure, on-site blackwater treatment. The first plan for that was approved residentially in Prescott by Brad Tito, the fellow who went up into space. And I've heard about triple piping, I think. What are some of the potential, maybe even distributed processing kinds of innovations you've seen for human waste, and what are some other areas that may offer promise?
Dale Whittington: So I won't go through all the different individual components in answering your question. But I think the real trick, the real challenge, is how to put them together in a system, this technological complex. Just to give you an example, the Gates Foundation just this week announced the winners of the Toilet Challenge. And if you look at it in isolation, this is terrific. By the way, I should say we should all thank Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation for focusing on this problem. It's really terrific.
But the fact that the Gates Foundation needed to do this really reinforces my point that there's no incentives in the system to foster innovation. We're depending on the Gates Foundation to help us, really, with this huge global problem. There's nothing wrong with that, but the system itself is not forcing us to innovate in this area.
So to answer your question about these toilets, these are remarkable toilets that the winners-- I think it's Michael Hoffman from Caltech. It's a solar-powered toilet. They're usually designed now for rural areas, not for these megacities. I mean, the challenge is not to design a standalone waterless toilet. It's to try to figure out how to integrate them into a system with a city of 20 million people. So you can innovate on the individual components, but how to put them together that nobody seems to be working on. It's just like you imagine you get a waterless toilet and the job's done. Not so easy.
I taught a course for a major water company in the UK last year, and I gave the senior management this challenge of what threat could come to them over the next generation. First, they couldn't think of anything. But then we talked about could customers disconnect. In other words, could the same thing happen to water utilities that you had for a landline? You know, telecommunications. So they started thinking about it. They weren't too worried. They figured that they could stop that. In other words, they had enough political power to prevent-- so the political forces behind this complex are very strong, right?
So really, we're already going to be building out these megacities, so we're really going to have to backtrack after these cities are built on the individual components. It's a real challenge. I don't know if that answers your questions, but-- yeah.
Audience: So I wanted to address your comment about the UN human rights to water and how that has kind of impeded innovation. So I have two questions. This is the first one. I want to get your thoughts on how do we leverage this declaration of the right to water instead of seeing it as a blockade to innovation, and actually use that as a way to spearhead more innovative ideas and address this problem of water and sanitation rights. And then another question, how do we ensure that the innovative ideas that are being generated are actually community owned and are going to be sustainable in that regard? Because if you're creating these great ideas and it's not culturally competent or it's not addressing the needs and the skill sets within that community, then how are we going to sustain them? So what are some of your ideas around those?
Dale Whittington: Great questions. So first let me say of course I believe that everybody has a right to clean water and sanitation too. We all want the poor people around the world to have water and sanitation, and they're getting it very quickly. We're building out these systems very, very fast.
But you asked me what would I do. The first thing I would do is have the NGOs promise not to sue these governments. I mean, this is not a very cooperative approach, right? These water utilities, these finance ministries, many of them are struggling to do the best job they can. Maybe they decide that they should build electric power systems before water, and then they get sued by an NGO and taken to the International Court. It's not helpful and it's not respectful. And so I think that would be the first thing I would do-- to work with people, not sue them. We're taking this American litigation culture and taking it into places where it really doesn't belong.
With regard to community ownership, I'm not a lawyer. And this is a big challenge. I do like to see the Gates Foundation and other organizations really try to protect this-- I mean, open up this intellectual property for the world.
And it seems like it's getting harder and harder to hold this very tightly.
Yeah, Kerry? Yeah.
Kerry Smith: We see prices when we can assign property rights in some way. It seems to me that as the competing demands for water increase with population growth, you're suggesting, I see the potential for pricing, not the road blocks to pricing. The advantage of that, from my narrow perspective, is that with prices come incentives, with incentives come technological innovation. So instead of trying to block the pricing, what can we do-- or do you think it's worthwhile to facilitate the pricing, recognizing that there are some needs that have to be met? But they don't need all of the water uses that we've displayed. Health and sanitation, yes. Beyond that? Perhaps.
Dale Whittington: So I'm really interested in that question and I don't know the answer. It's a much bigger challenge than I ever anticipated. There's a billion people in South Asia, a little more, that you just can't have a serious discussion. At the same time, many people in the urban areas are paying high prices, coping with this unreliable, poor water system. But if you talk about trying to finance capital investments to improve this using user fees, you just get nowhere.
So I think that's a great problem for a place like a school of sustainability. Economists alone are not going to solve that. It's going to take psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists. It's a real challenge, and it's a much deeper challenge than I anticipated. But I think it's exactly the kind of thing we ought to be working on. You'll get the world Water Prize if you can crack that problem, but it's much harder than I thought.
It's easy to say, well, just assign property rights. But that's not-- I mean, in these contexts, that's also hard. That's also hard. Yeah?
Audience: Hi. My name is [INAUDIBLE]. I come from Peru. I'm a Peruvian engineer. I'm a fellow at the McCain Institute. First of all, I would like to thank you for showing this excellent picture of Machu Picchu, shown as a-- it's a great--
It's a great country. I had a wonderful time in Peru.
You can tell that was a really great work of engineering. Until now, there are some facilities that they are still working until now. And, well, my question goes into the feel of the environmental or economical policy. I would like to know if you have seen some economical scheme for investors, like a public-- how it's called? Private-public partnerships that there are-- can [? work and ?] facilitate? Because it's a fact that the tariff doesn't pay off the investment, because it's capital intensive, right? So because in my country, at least, it's not working-- so I really appreciate your thoughts on that. Thanks.
Dale Whittington: So the question is about public-private partnerships and bringing the private sector in. I actually worked at the World Bank during the period in which there was this great enthusiasm for bringing the private sector in. And honestly, I kind of missed this problem. I didn't really see it coming-- in other words, the involvement of the private sector, and then the withdrawal of the private sector again. The hope was that the private sector would bring capital in to solve these financing needs, and that really didn't happen from international investors.
But the evidence is actually much more positive than the media leads you to think. In China, over the last 20 years, there's been a massive involvement of the private sector, and it's kind of gone unreported. But when I showed you the massive expansion of piped water and sewer systems in China, a lot of that has been done with public-private partnerships.
And so it's not all as grim as the Latin America experience. And actually, the reason it's not as grim is that the international investors have kind of left the field, and they've left it to local investors. So it's actually Chinese private firms that have been doing this work.
And it's been hard. I mean, I have a student that's now a director of the Institute of Water Policy in Singapore who has done a lot of work on this. There's been a lot of missteps in the regulation of the private sector in China. But they didn't give up. They learned from their mistakes and kept going. And so I'm not as pessimistic as many people about the involvement of the private sector. But I think it's a pie in the sky to think that international investors are going to bring the capital needed to address these problems.
Audience: Yes, I just had a quick question about-- you mentioned big data being used for technologies in water. Where would you get the data for that? Would the World Bank actually have that data, or--
Dale Whittington: No, the World Bank doesn't have much data. Actually, I worked with the Egyptian Water Regulatory Commission for the last three years, and it's the regulatory commissions that can command the data. Kerry would love this. We actually got millions of data records from every utility in Egypt. And the regulator had never tried to get them. We actually had to go into the bowels of the data management units in these Egyptian utilities to get this.
So the data's available. If you've got a electronic billing system, you can actually go in and get the records. But mostly people haven't wanted them. It's a big job, analyzing millions and millions-- you do that kind of work. It's very hard, and you need specialized econometric and statistical skills, and most of the regulatory commissions don't have it. But if you can get that data, you can do all kinds of things in terms of communicate-- because you know exactly what each customer's doing, and you could use that information, matched with socioeconomic information on the household, to actually tailor messages about this on water conservation or a variety of things. But to my knowledge, the water utilities aren't doing this.
I guess this is working. OK. I'm very fascinated with the story that you're telling about cities and needing to have the water more integrated into the cities. We had a great speaker here last year. I can't remember his name, but he spoke about biophilic cities and different projects that he'd witnessed and had been studying around the world. I'm thinking of a large city that I study, which is Sao Paulo, Brazil, which is built literally on top of thousands of rivers and streams, so that you can be walking down the street, see all concrete, and hear a full-on raging river under your feet, but not see it. Now, what do you do when you've made that kind of a colossal mistake in developing a city?
Dale Whittington: Well, this is the path dependency I was talking about. It's going to take a lot of time and money to fix some of these mistakes. It's better not to make them in the first place. But once you're stuck-- I mean, Riyadh actually re-did this. This Wadi Hanifa was an incredible project. But it probably cost on the order of $300 to $400 million to create this urban park. Saudi Arabia had the money to do that, but many of these cities, it is just impossible to come up with this kind of finance.
But some things are doable. The situation in Riyadh is just incredible, because that Wadi Hanifa, talk about path dependency. That water comes into the city-- it's D-cell water piped over 100 miles into the city. It's priced for free.
It's almost given away in the city.
And the wastewater actually comes from a third network under the city. It's not the water network. It's not the sewer network. It's a third pipe network. It's like irrigation drains, Larry. So they've got irrigation drains under the city that collect the excess water used from the households. And now they've created this beautiful urban park out of this excess water use. So they're now-- sorting out the domestic water side's going to be increasingly complicated, because they've got this extremely valuable asset in the urban park.
Audience: Hi. Thanks very much. My name's Pam Posten. I've heard several other speakers over the past few years on the subject of water, worldwide water supplies. And so my question to you is, if we can get this sewage problem under control, is there enough drinking water to support the population when it peaks?
Dale Whittington: That's easy. There's plenty of water for drinking. It's really not a problem. And the D-cell technologies are going to be able to supply water on the coastal cities. Now, I wouldn't argue for a 100% portfolio of D-cell, but Singapore's now got about 10% of its water-- I don't know how many people here have been to a D-cell plant, but they're quite remarkable these days, this reverse osmosis technology. So the D-cell plant in
Singapore supplies water for over a million people. It's probably not much bigger than this room.
So no, I think it's not going to be a problem on aggregate supply if we have the money to do it. I'm not too worried. I'm much more worried about financing the capital investments needed to adapt to climate change in these coastal cities. That's a bigger concern of mine at the moment. Thank you.
Moderator: I think this is a good time to take a break. One thing which is implicit in what Dale was saying, but we should mention, is water is more capital intensive than any other utility-- more capital intensive than electricity, or telecommunications, or natural gas, or oil. And so the underlying problem of water is money rather than molecules of H2O.
And what's wrong with the model that we have now is that we can afford it, but the 3 or 4 billion people who are going to come along in the world can't afford it, at least right now. And that's why what they pay is maybe a tenth of what it costs. And it's that imbalance which is the Achilles heel of the network system we have. It's a perfect system and we have nothing against it, except it's financially unsustainable. And that, I think, is the challenge that has really drawn attention to.
I'd like us to thank Dale. And then you go out either door, and you go behind here under the rotunda, and there's a reception. You're very welcome to join us. You'll have a chance to talk some more with Dale. So thank you very much, Dale, for the terrific talk.
Dale Whittington: Thank you. Thank you very much.
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