What do pollution, climate change, industry, irrigation, population growth and life on Earth have in common? Water.
Water was a pressing agenda topic this year at Davos, a pertinent and fundamental issue to the world’s growing population. In January, The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report stated that the risk with the greatest potential impact for 2016 was to be a failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Quite worrying then that a recent survey by REC, a solar panel manufacturer, showed that two-fifths of Britons are currently unwilling to make changes to help combat the threat of climate change.
Whether people are suffering from the impacts of climate change or are sceptical of global warming, there is growing consensus that climate change will leave no one unharmed and the availability of clean water is how we will feel it most.
The world is running low on fresh water as global temperatures rise and demand continues to outstrip supply. The uncontrolled abstraction of surface and groundwater is beginning to cause huge tensions, as has been predicted for a decade or more, and is particularly acute in developing nations whose populations are growing, and especially where existing water supplies are under threat from agricultural or industrial pollution, the degradation of wetlands and over-extraction for the manufacture or growing of products that end up on the other side of the world.
Looking at a more global picture, each country will require a unique solution and undoubtedly, more money and time will be spent developing new technologies to protect and produce more usable water. Take recycled water and seawater desalination, a supply solution that Australia needs because they lack the necessary rainfall but a very expensive and energy intensive process.
In Africa, countries are not only suffering from drought but also lack economic support and the necessary water infrastructure. Boreholes and aquifers are better able to endure extreme weather than surface water can, so more of a focus should be placed on installing the right infrastructure to tap into groundwater reserves. In countries with higher rainfalls, like us here in the UK, rainwater collection needs to be harnessed far more than it currently is. Cities, businesses and households are losing out on readily available fresh water and it seems logical to make the most of our climatic conditions and become more efficient at incorporating rainwater harvesting into building design and agricultural systems.
Remember the SUDS debacle… It’s time to step up to the plate and ensure all new development harvests rainwater, uses greywater and contributes towards reducing surface water runoff and flooding. Surely?
From a bottom up approach, the global population as well as the energy and water intensive industries need to reduce their water use and be smarter about how they use the water currently accessible to them.
A promising outcome at Davos was the formation of a Heads of State Panel on Water to lead and assess global progress. The panel of governments and businesses will meet regularly between now and 2018 and will be chaired by the presidents of Mexico and Mauritius. This is a fair representation as these two countries continue to experience their own water challenges, with Mexico facing water shortages from its accelerated developing economy, and Mauritius, a vulnerable small island facing the water issues that come with rising sea levels. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman of Nestle who was present at the session summarised that, “It is important to keep in mind that water is of course a human right, and it is an environmental good. But it is also an economic resource of high importance to society and industry: no food security without water security, no energy security without water security.”
Let us hope some tangible results are produced over the next three years and water valuation continues to be on the agenda.