When It Comes to Water, Yes, There May Be Light at the End of the Tunnel
By Klaus Reichardt
“New evidence supports scientific fears that the Middle East and North African regions are at risk of becoming uninhabitable in a few decades,” writes Kamal Baher, an Egyptian-born journalist with the Inter Press Service International, headquartered in Rome, Italy. He bases this on the fact that “accessible freshwater has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years.” At the same time, population growth in this area of the world, which comprises 22 countries, is growing, putting an ever greater demand on dwindling water resources. Currently, it is home to more than 400 million people. That is not the end of the stark reality facing the Middle East and North Africa, however. Baher also reports the following:
• Per capita availability of fresh water in this area is now 10 times less than the world average.
• Excessively high temperatures in recent years have shortened growing seasons in the region by an average of 18 days, reducing agricultural yields.
• Climate models provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) indicate that parts of the Gulf region “could be hit with unprecedented events of deadly heat as a result of climate change,” which can further exacerbate water availability and agriculture growing issues.
• Ninety percent of the land in this region is arid or semi-arid, already limiting the amount of land that can be used for agriculture.
• Currently, freshwater resources are among the lowest in the world and are expected to fall over 50 percent in the next 20 years, based on information provided by the United Nations.
It is a difficult situation and unfortunately, it can have a domino effect. Countries in this part of the world will have to determine how much water they can allocate for human consumption, agriculture and business. There is no happy scenario. Reducing water for agriculture, for instance, can further limit food supplies. Limitations on industrial water consumption can put people out of work and damage economies. Making matters worse, political instability may grow and neighboring countries will likely squabble over the limited water resources available.
We will address the potential ways many of these water issues can and are being resolved, putting some light at the end for what appears to be a very long, dark and grim tunnel. Nevertheless, first we need to know that the Middle East and North Africa are not the only parts of the world facing growing, if not urgent, water concerns. For instance, consider the following:
• Because water is also used to power electricity-generating plants, by 2040, there may not be enough water in the world to meet both human consumption and energy demands.(1)
• Related to this, by 2035 the world’s energy consumption is expected to increase by 35 percent; this is expected to increase water use by 15 percent.(2)
• By 2025, the United Nations reports that nearly two billion people will be living in countries or regions of the world with “absolute water scarcity” and “two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions.” Absolute water scarcity is the result of inadequate water resources to supply a region’s water-related needs.
• For the first time in history, many parts of the world have a significant and growing middle-class; by 2030, it is expected that this middle-class will surge from about two billion to nearly five billion people and with it, increased water consumption.(3)
• Water demand is projected to grow as much as 55 percent in the next 30 years; this includes an increase of more than 400 percent for manufacturing purposes.(4)
Addressing the challenges
If we want to know how the world is going to address this water crisis and hopefully turn it around, all we need to do is take a very close look at what the state of Israel has accomplished in the past 70 years. As we know, the country has dealt with one water crisis after another, not only since its founding, but for centuries.
For instance, according to Dr. David Hazony, Executive Director of the Israel Innovation Fund, “Israel today is a seed-breeding giant…having invested heavily in research [to develop] genetically modified seeds that include a wide variety of water-efficient vegetables.” In other words, we already have at least one solution to all the water-related/agriculture-related concerns discussed earlier. The seeds are now available to grow plants that need far less water and use it more efficiently than traditional seeds.
The country has also been leading the world in addressing other water-related issues as well, such as:
• Developing technologies that can detect water leakage quickly so it can be eliminated
• Developing ways for farmers to use water more efficiently
• Recycling and reusing treated water
• Developing pricing and education policies that encourage water efficiency and responsibility
• And, what has proven most successful, leading the world in desalination innovation
Israel is not alone, however, when it comes to innovative strategies to help reduce water consumption. California is now working with Israeli engineers to develop desalination plants in the state and China also has several desalination projects operating, pumping millions of gallons into their water supplies. Further, many water-efficiency solutions are evolving here, right in our own backyards. For instance, the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA, which has become Platinum LEED-certified, reports many of the steps they have taken to earn this certification were water-related. Among them are the following:
• Installing high-efficiency toilets that use considerably less water than those required by government regulations
• Installing waterless urinals in all men’s restrooms; while there are no estimates as to the urinal-related water savings in a stadium, in a school or office facility, it is estimated that one no-water urinal can save as much as 35,000 gallons of water per year
• Using xeriscaping throughout and planting native, drought-resistant plants that require far less water than other plants
• Selecting mechanicals (such as boilers and HVAC systems) that use water more efficiently than comparable systems
• Installing a 680,000-gallon (2,574,080-liter) cistern to collect rainwater, which can then be used for cooling the facility or irrigation
• Storage of more than two million gallons (3,785,411 liters) of water underground so that it can be used for irrigation and other purposes, reducing the amount of water it needs from Atlanta utilities
Further, the stadium planners took steps to address water-related issues in the neighborhoods surrounding the facility. As an example, steps were taken to help reduce water-drainage issues, which historically has contributed to flooding in areas surrounding the new stadium. More than one million gallons (3,785,411 liters) of this water are now stored underground.
Earlier, I mentioned that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I did so because I did not want this to be another dire warnings article about the future, this time regarding water. I wanted to make sure, however, that we also know that there are ways we can address water concerns today and in the future. The water crises we are facing and the many problems projected around the globe are spurring innovation very fast. The future may be far brighter when it comes to water than what we realize today.
(1) Aarhus University. “Worldwide water shortage by 2040.” Science Daily. July 29, 2014. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140729093112.htm.
(2) “Will Water Constrain our Energy Future.” The World Bank. January 16, 2014.
(3) “The Coming Global Water Crisis,” by Stewart Patrick. The Atlantic, May 9, 2012.
(4) “Hot, Crowded and Running out of Fuel: Earth of 2050 a Scary Place,” by James Holloway, ARS Technica. March 28, 2012.
About the author
Klaus Reichardt is CEO and founder of Waterless Co., Inc., Vista, CA. He founded the company in 1991 to establish a new market segment in the plumbing-fixture industry with water efficiency in mind. Reichardt is a frequent writer and presenter, discussing water conservation issues. He can be reached at email@example.com.