Approximately 2.7 billion people suffer from water scarcity on the planet.
Processing that number can feel unbelievable when considering how freely water is consumed in developed nations. However, it also startling to learn that only 3% of the entire pool of global water is safe for human consumption, with 2/3rd’s of it frozen in glaciers and ice caps.
2.7 billion people account for approximately 35% of the human population. Approximately 35% of the global population lacks consistent access to safe, clean, fresh water. The overwhelming majority of these people are found in developing nations. This evidence reveals that action must be taken with water allocation and conservation in developing countries. Major contributing factors to water scarcity in developing nations include pollution of water systems, overuse of water, distance to water sources, drought, and governmental control. The consequences of insufficient access to water include hunger, disease, high mortality rates, poor sanitation, restricted access to education, and poverty.
The solution to this problem is multifaceted and solving the problem can only be achieved by a global collective. Proposed solutions to solve the water scarcity crisis are below:
Improved Water Infrastructure
Water infrastructure encompasses physical structures as well as internal tools and operations. Physical structures can include groundwater wells, drinking water facilities, storage tanks, pipes, surface-water intakes, dams, and aqueducts. Tools can be the equipment which transports, stores, pumps, treats and delivers safe drinking water. Poor or insufficient infrastructure is a precursor to water scarcity, which is why it is vital to create the structural and operational foundations of water management in a way that is sustainable and efficient.
Natural landscape management is a vital piece of water infrastructure. Conservation, restoration and sustainable management are techniques that provide basic water waste reduction. This includes flood control, aquifer storage and recharge and providing clean and abundant supply of water.
Improving infrastructure will reduce both the cost of water management and the reduction of wasted water.
Smart Irrigation Replacing Traditional Irrigation Practices
70% of all available clean water on the planet (allocated for use) is currently being used in agricultural and commercial irrigation practices. 60% of that water is lost as waste due to inefficient irrigation practices and water runoff. This reveals that 42% of all available water on the planet being used is wasted. As stated in our previous article, the solution to this disaster is Smart Irrigation practices.
Traditional irrigation practices use timer based systems or “gut feelings” to build irrigation schedules and assess how much water to release. Smart irrigation systems move on from these techniques by integrating environmental sensors into automated irrigation systems. By transmitting realtime data, sensors open or close water valves based on the current environment, saving up to 60% of wasted water. In developing nations, smart irrigation systems needs to be easy to install, cost effective, and scalable. RF Mesh Networking is a solution for this as it offers smart irrigation systems a wireless option that removes cables and eliminates cellular barriers, such as airtime charges and regional restrictions.
Groundwater Recharge and Aquifer Storage
Groundwater recharge is an ongoing solution to water conservation. This phenomenon within the hydrological cycle transports surface-water downward to groundwater wells and aquifers using soil and rock as filtration. Man-made technology has successfully aided the replenishing of these resources with artificial groundwater recharging techniques. The process is done by well injection (pictured above), wastewater disposal and irrigation. Reclaimed wastewater and human induced recharge are gaining ground in many regions, making it a key component for water reclamation. Artificial groundwater recharge has proven to be one of the most successful methods of solving water scarcity in many areas.
Aquifer recovery and storage offers a similar solution. Aquifers are permeable underground layers of water-bearing rock (they have openings that liquids and gases can pass through). The process of aquifer storage and recovery is done via infiltration into unconfined, shallow aquifers. In recent years, this process has evolved to accommodate direct injection into deeper aquifer systems, including those containing poor quality groundwater making freshwater storage available in areas where none formerly existed.
Water Pollution and Greenhouse Gas Reduction
The single largest contributor to water scarcity is pollution. Simply, by releasing pollutants in water systems the amount of available and clean freshwater is reduced. However, the effects of pollutants go well beyond limiting access to resources; the environmental consequences of these chemicals can lead to deteriorative health related effects and high mortality rates in both animals and humans.
Pollution goes hand and hand with global warming, a key factor in water scarcity. Human induced global warming is the result of greenhouse gasses being released into the atmosphere, leading to the increased global temperatures. This contributes to the destruction of frozen, freshwater icecaps, consequently raising sea levels. Rising sea levels subsequently contribute to an increase in floods and natural disasters, which then destroys infrastructure and reduces the amount of clean water available.
Pollution also contaminates rainwater. Airborne pollutants affect precipitation and can make water unusable for both irrigation and human consumption.
Water Catchment/Basin’s and Rainwater Harvesting Techniques
Rainwater harvesting is one of the main sources of freshwater in developing African nations. This is generally done by the use of a water catchment and collection basin.
Water collected from these basins is used for a multitude of purposes. This water is deployed to support irrigation, livestock, cooking and drinking. This water is safe to consume, as long as there are no airborne contaminants. These systems can be scaled down small enough to be installed on residential roofs and gutters for individual use, or scaled up large enough to support populations by using the natural landscapes to collect amounts of clean water.
Water Conservation in Developed Countries
Nations which have access to clean water can contribute by reducing wasted water in everyday life. Continuously running water in home appliances can unnecessarily use hundreds of litres of water on a daily basis. Fitting appliances with water saving mechanisms, such as low flowing shower-heads or low flush toilets significantly reduces water waste. Even simple tasks such as cleaning sidewalks with brooms instead of hoses can save vast amounts of water.
Building smarter and more efficient cities is a major contributor to reducing the stress on water scarcity. The city of Barcelona implemented a Smart City solution into their public irrigation system. This smart monitoring system now saves the city over $500,000 USD annually in water costs. When building smart solutions into cities, it’s vital to understand the anatomy of why these technologies and how they can benefit the global community.
Research and Development
New technologies being produced are helping purify water and are being made available for mass consumption. These include Reverse Osmosis, Electrodialysis Reversal (EDR), Solar and UV Filtration.
Reverse osmosis uses semi-permeable membranes to remove molecules, ions and other larger particles from water, making it consumable. This technology is already being used in developed nations in consumer goods such as household filters
EDR uses direct current to allow ions to flow to electrodes of opposite charge through ion selective membranes. This technology is most efficient when purifying water with low suspending solids or high silica
Solar and UV Filtration uses a blend of solar energy and solar UV light to make water that has been contaminated by biological organisms safe to drink.
Increase Awareness & Education
The most effective method to enact change is education. Ignorance is nothing more than a lack of knowledge. Education on water scarcity and the practices associated can go a long way to realizing the widespread implementation of solutions. Understanding how technologies like Orbis Mesh can help enact real change helps cut through the apathy that can build with problems of this scale.
To learn more about the water scarcity crisis and how you can contribute, visit Water.org