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Water, water, everywhere

Desalination—the removal of salt from seawater to make it drinkable —has long been a possible answer to the world's water shortages. Can technological advances bring it into the mainstream, or will it remain too expensive and energy-inefficient?

By Fred Pearce   May 2006

Is desalination of seawater the answer to the world’s water troubles? Some people think so—not least the public. While touring British radio studios to promote my recent book, When the Rivers Run Dry, I found that the question most frequently asked by callers to phone-in programmes was: “Why should we be short of water when we are surrounded by sea? Surely desalination is the answer?”

And it’s a good question, especially as the cost of desalination is falling fast. It is often claimed that the 21st century will witness the first water wars. But it could turn out instead to…

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