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A global solution to a global crisis: taking on the world’s water problem

Published on November 04, 2022

Why is it a global crisis?

Depending on where you live, the water crisis will no doubt look different to you than it does to someone on another continent. For example, if you reside in the UK, it may appear that there is no water ‘crisis’ as such – surely, there is no shortage of water in one of the most infamously wet countries in the world? However, as recently as this summer, the UK experienced record-breaking heatwaves and consequent droughts. Meanwhile, water scarcity affects 1 in 3 people in Africa. And, in Pakistan this year, back-to-back heatwaves were followed by catastrophic floods that have killed close to 2000 people.

As a complex challenge that affects, and is affected by, other issues – such as climate change, economics, health, gender and poverty – the global water crisis needs robust solutions.

It is all connected

The United Nations recognises the dire importance of not only these issues but specifically how they are all connected. If we work towards achieving any one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), then we are undoubtedly closer to achieving them all. And solving this crisis is about so much more than protecting freshwater resources: it is about enabling people to access clean water, making sanitation available for good health and hygiene, innovating to improve our current industrial practices, managing the risks and consequences of a changing climate, and creating a sustainable future for everyone.

Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation – Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Access to clean water is crucial for maintaining good sanitation and hygiene. More than that, it empowers women, girls and the poor. The UN estimates that, collectively, women spend women spend 200 million hours a day collecting water, which takes valuable time away from education and employment. Ensuring that clean water is available and accessible is the foundation of the SDGs because, when this basic human right is satisfied, a consequence is addressing other issues relating to hunger, poverty and health, among others.

Africa

It’s estimated that a staggering 771 million people lack access to basic drinking water, and half of those live in sub-Saharan Africa. Though the region experiences much rainfall, it is seasonal and unevenly distributed. There is also a significant lack of infrastructure to draw water from rivers and aquifers, and distribute it among urban and rural communities.

Since 2017, RSK has partnered with eWATERservices in Tanzania to install and run the world’s largest prepayment Smart Tap programme. Each solar-powered ‘pay-as-you-go’ meter can provide enough water for 250 people and will enable 11 girls to go to school rather than walking to collect water.

Goal 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure – Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation

A positive consequence of climate change is innovation. Climate change is driving innovation in industry and infrastructure to ensure that historic water management is resilient to extreme weather, inconsistent supply and ever-increasing demand.

Europe

Record-breaking heatwaves in Europe this summer caused wildfires and droughts, which have had knock-on impacts on energy, carbon emissions and the economy. As one of the world’s top travel destinations, Majorca, an island about 200 km off the eastern coast of Spain, is feeling the pressure of increasing water scarcity. The island receives an erratic supply due to heavy rainfall followed by droughts.

RSK company Amphos 21 is exploring an innovative alternative to traditional methods of securing a regular water supply (e.g., reservoirs and dams, which can be costly and hugely damaging to the environment): managed aquifer recharge (MAR). Reclaimed water is injected into underground aquifers, where it is naturally filtered through porous rock. It is essentially a natural, underground water treatment plant. Amphos 21 formulated a reclaimed water injection pilot project in Majorca and, promisingly, there is evidence that such methods of improving water tables and groundwater supply can be effective in places with similar climate and geology.

UK

Agriculture is a leading industry in the UK, using about 71% of the nation’s total land area. However, it is leading for another reason: agriculture accounts for 40% of river pollution in England alone. This is known as diffuse pollution, in which fertilisers, pesticides and other contaminants enter waterways via farmland runoff or leach into groundwater. The result is that only 14% of English rivers are of good ecological status.

RSK company ADAS is changing the way the agricultural industry interacts with the natural environment. By working with farmers, Natural England, the Environment Agency and water companies, ADAS is equipping farmers with the knowledge and skills to implement sustainable land and water-management practices. They have consulted more than 3000 farms as part of the Catchment Sensitive Farming programme, which has seen the number of serious water pollution incidents reduce by almost a fifth.

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Developing countries need solutions to sustain population growth and a rapid transition from rural to urban dwelling. However, largely rural population centres rely on subsistence farming and seasonal rains. From urban metropolises to rural settlements, there is no silver-bullet solution.

Middle East

Kuwait has very little freshwater resource and mainly relies on desalinated sea water or treated wastewater. Despite the dry conditions, Kuwait’s population is growing. More than 90% of the population is urbanised, and most people live in the capital, Kuwait City. The country needs a resilient water network to match its growth and counter the effects of climate change.

Central to the country’s infrastructure are large, energy-intensive pump stations that will need to deliver 1000 million gallons of water per day to match projected demand by 2030. RSK company Nicholas O’Dwyer worked to ensure that the Minaa Abdullah pump station is as energy efficient as possible and mitigated the net power use across the plant by 4.5 MW – all while ensuring that operations were not disrupted.

Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production – Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Population growth and increasing development intensify demand for an already stressed resource. Responsible consumption and production are essential to manage the supply of fresh water efficiently and ensure that waste is minimised.

Asia Pacific

This region is home to some of the world’s most densely populated countries and territories, and Macau, Singapore and Hong Kong are in the top five. Densely packed cities and continued population growth create an overriding challenge of balancing and managing water supply and demand.

RSK company Binnies helped to tackle Hong Kong’s water management strategy by conducting scenario modelling to find ways of increasing supply and reducing demand, now and in the future. Binnies worked to build resilience into the equation to ensure a reliable water supply, even during times of drought, by developing desalination plants using reverse osmosis. To help manage demand, they recommended water-saving initiatives for water conservation, water loss management and expansion of the use of lower-grade water for non-potable purposes.

Latin America

Latin America has about 30% of the world’s freshwater resources but mismanagement, overexploitation, pollution and climate-change-related impacts are increasing the region’s water insecurity. Of the 20 largest Latin American cities, 16 now face water-related stress.

As a water-intensive industry, agriculture, and the global supply chains it serves, stands to lose most if this resource is disrupted. For PepsiCo, that meant working to improve the health of the watersheds where their supply chains are located in Argentina, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Peru. ADAS worked with PepsiCo to develop a modelling approach to calculate water-use efficiency for potato and corn production and, from that, to understand how much water was being used to produce a tonne of crop on each of their farms and how to reduce water use while maintaining high yields. So far, PepsiCo is on track to meeting its goal of a 15% reduction in water-use efficiency by 2025.

An evolving challenge

Read our report to find out how RSK is tackling the global water crisis. Taming the current: Solutions to the global water crisis is available here.

See more insights

ARTICLE AUTHOR

RSK Marketing Communications

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