The United Nations Environment Program
There is a growing need to adopt a new set of Sustainable Development Goals that aim to “Transform the World”. Change comes with collective effort, mutual understanding and knowledge toward specific goals.
Despite the UN and other international organisations making crucial decisions, the result is far from expected. It made me wonder what it is that we are falling short on? Is it the lack of interest or lack of awareness?
That’s when I had a eureka moment, and it suddenly started to make all sense. Many people don’t know the complicated terms and references that are used when we talk about sustainability. The idea inspired me to create a new series called “The ABCs of Sustainability Development”. I hope that this series of blogs is well received and serves its purpose.
This week, our focus is on water, or specifically the global water crises. The choice of the word “crises” is to highlight the varying different dimensions of the ongoing struggles around the world with respect to water. Several countries around the world are suffering from disastrous shortage of water, yet at the same time cities like Las Vegas, Seoul, and several areas in Pakistan are undergoing unprecedented levels of flooding. There are also issues of chemical or acid rain, making the barely available amounts of potable water undrinkable. We are nowhere close to achieving Sustainable Development Goal #6, ie., ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030, and the UN suggests that if we are to achieve this we need to work four times faster to do so.
Water insecurity refers to not having access to safe, reliable water for essential daily purposes such as drinking, sanitation, cleaning and cooking. According to a study in 2020, 4 billion people in the world experience water scarcity for at least one month in a year. There are various factors that cause this, and in many situations several factors come into play together and compound their effects. For instance, water pollution from many sources (insecticides, pesticides, industrial activities) contaminates water and makes it impossible to drink. This, coupled with exponential population growth rates results in an ever decreasing water supply for an ever increasing human population, placing immense stress on water sources. 41% of the world population lives in river basins today, but in areas prone to flooding this results in significant loss of life and damage to property, especially in developing countries with weaker disaster management strategies.
Effect on Businesses
Water scarcity as an issue tends to be disregarded or not taken very seriously, especially when it comes to commercial interests and priorities. However, the growing water scarcity crisis also has the further implication of rising marginal costs of water to businesses.
For instance, since 2003 Coca-Cola and its bottlers have spent nearly $2 billion to reduce their water use and improve water quality wherever they operate. Ford, the carmaker, built a $2.5m water treatment system at its assembly plant in South Africa so as to increase water reuse up to 15 per cent. Straining water supplies means growing costs for a resource that has thus far been taken for granted.
In a study done in 2022, it was suggested that “Water scarcity can induce manufacturing facilities that rely heavily on water to improve their environmental performance by lowering toxic releases, but only when they face persistent drought.” The future of businesses in a world with water scarcity will look very different if market-based systems of demand and supply become the structures in vogue to allocate water resources for business use, as it will put smaller businesses with less capital power at a significant disadvantage. This is also why it is very much in the interests of businesses to find more creative solutions to the water shortage.
New emerging technological solutions are the need of the hour to manage the several aspects of the water crisis. The water sector has suffered a lack of innovation in the past, but growing urgency has resulted in new developments. Some areas which have potential for improvement through technological development include:
– Improving the efficiency of desalination plants which are generally very energy intensive. This has the potential to reduce the price of desalinated water, taking some pressure off of freshwater and groundwater sources.
– Improvement in biological treatment processes can significantly increase the capacity of wastewater treatment plants, which are a huge source of water for industry and agriculture
– The development of the advanced pressure management system resulted in 70% of the demand for water being reduced during Cape Town’s 2018 drought.
Innovation in the water sector is an investment-heavy task. However, since this is not a sector that shows instant growth, it is not an attractive investment project. There is a need for long term visionaries with interest in technological advancement as well as patience to see returns to see serious growth in technological solutions to the crisis.
Due to the enormity of the water scarcity crisis and the uneven patterns with which it affects different regions and countries, it is essential for countries to come together to find solutions to this. This is a global issue that threatens survival, and not a single country’s problem. Trans-boundary cooperative management of shared water resources is crucial, especially considering that a significant amount of freshwater rivers flow across political borders.
Further, the importance of data and information cannot be stressed enough to achieve the goal of water security. Bridging the knowledge and data gap is essential, and it is very important to make evidence-based decisions in water management.
Youth engagement is key to addressing the water crisis, and the role of the youth is crucial to implementing any water management strategies. Capacity building and spreading awareness are key factors that can catapult us from our current status of water insecurity to serious progress towards water scarcity.