Water scarcity worse than we thought – but smart solutions flow

Tue, 2016-03-29 10:37 -- Liz Enbysk

The World Economic Forum's (WEC) 2016 Global Risks Report lists the water crisis as one of the three biggest challenges the world faces. 

Now a new study published in Science Advances looked at water scarcity challenges on a monthly basis (rather than annual) and determined severe water scarcity affects 4 billion people for a month or more each year. That's more than originally thought, notes WEC.


The study also reported:

  • Half a million people are water insecure year-round
  • Nearly half of the 4 billion people live in China or India

The researchers -- Mesfin M. Mekonnen and Arjen Y. Hoekstra of the Twente Water Centre at the University of Twente in the Netherlands -– say the situation will become only more acute as populations increase and water consumption rises.

And fixing it won't be easy.

"Meeting humanity’s increasing demand for freshwater and protecting ecosystems at the same time," the study concludes, "will be one of the most difficult and important challenges of this century."

Overcoming those challenges
The good news is there are solutions that are making a difference. Advances in technology are helping -– from monitoring losses and theft in water distribution systems to enabling safe water recycling and reuse programs.

And smart new ways to battle water scarcity are cropping up around the world; we've listed a few examples below and you'll find more linked at the end of this article:

  • Desolenator is a mobile water desalination system that, according to a Veolia post, can purify any water source, including saltwater, using energy from the sun. Its inventor says it can purify up to 15 liters of water a day –- no electricity required. Earlier this month the UK-based startup that developed the Desolenator won a major award at the CleanEquity Monaco forum. Judges noted the technology has "the potential to impact the lives of millions in the developed and developing world."
  • Hand pump sensors are being piloted in northern Ethiopia by Charity: Water, a New York-based NGO that Fast Company says has dug more than 16,000 water projects in more than 24 countries in the past nine years. Though those wells are all visible on Google Maps, Charity:Water  until now didn't have a way to determine if they are still working without actually visiting the sites. Hence the sensors, which wrap around water pipes and send out data about water flow and levels. "We're going to tell with real precision how often they break down," Chief Water Officer Christof Gorder tells Fast Company. "We believe we'll also be able to look at patterns and predict breakdowns. We'll be able to see demand where we might need more wells dug. And we're going to find interesting ways to engage supporters who've helped us."
  • CloudFisher harvests fog for drinking water. In a very dry region of southwest Morocco, the CloudFisher has been providing access to fresh water for a year now. Black polymer nets hung on a series of tall steel poles can collect up to 17 gallons of water in a 24-hour period, according to a New York Times article, which adds: "In a part of the world that is battling the progressive effects of continuous drought -- exhaustion of wells, topsoil erosion, population loss as the land becomes inhospitable to agriculture -- fog-water collection could be a life-altering adaptation."
  • Awareness building is the focus of a new interactive app coming from Council Lead Partner Itron and Disco Learning Media. The app-based STEM curriculum, created in partnership with University of Texas professor Michael E. Webber, teaches key concepts about water and energy for K-12, colleges, industry and the general public. The goal, Itron says, is to improve water and energy literacy, encourage conservation and resourcefulness and inspire the next generation of innovators. The initiative, which was recognized by the White House, hopes to connect with 10,000 students this year and expand globally in 2017.

More on smart water technologies…
Is your city running out of water? The first place to look to find more
Addressing water scarcity through recycling and reuse: A menu for policymakers
Good call: Residential leak alerts enhance customer service
How the cloud is revolutionizing the future of water utility management
Drought and growth prompt more cities to quench thirst with salt water
Video: Civic Resource Group CivicConnect Water


This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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