Freshwater CrisisThe freshwater crisis is one that calls for attention, as water is an essential resource to all living organisms and ecosystems because it provides support to biological functions through the transportation of nutrients, regulation of body temperature and optimal digestion. It sustains life through biodiversity, productivity and adaptability to environmental changes to foster ecological processes.

According to the United States Bureau of Reclamation, approximately 3% of the Earth contains fresh water while the other 97% is saltwater. However, over 68% of the freshwater is in glaciers and polar ice caps, with another 30% in the soil, thereby rendering extraction difficult and expensive. The limited accessibility hampers fulfilling the expanding demand for freshwater resources and exacerbates the current worldwide freshwater crisis.

Earth’s Freshwater Poverty

Water scarcity intensifies as demand for freshwater rises as a result of population development, urbanization and industrialization, all of which diminish the availability of freshwater resources. Other causes that contribute to freshwater depletion include and over-extraction of groundwater.

Freshwater resources are not fairly distributed throughout the world, resulting in discrepancies in access and availability. Some areas, notably dry and semi-arid ones, suffer from chronic water scarcity, whereas others have copious freshwater supplies. This disparity could exacerbate socioeconomic inequities and lead to conflicts over the accessibility of water.

Consequences of Limited Access to Freshwater

Limited access to freshwater impacts human health. Waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid flourish in contaminated and poor water sources. A lack of sufficient hygiene and sanitation facilities, particularly in developing countries, further exacerbates these health problems.

According to the World Bank, 70% of freshwater finds its use in agriculture, and this represents the largest consumption of freshwater globally. Water scarcity could have a negative impact on crop production, food security and livestock, affecting overall agricultural efficiency and productivity. The limited access to water for irrigation could force farmers to rely on unsustainable practices, such as inefficient water distribution, limiting crop yields from diversifying and exacerbating the cycle of water scarcity and food insecurity.

The freshwater crisis affects many sectors in the water-intensive sectors, leading to economic consequences. Marginalized communities, particularly women and children, face the brunt of water scarcity because of the need to frequently transport water across great distances. This has a limiting effect on educational and economic empowerment. Moreover, limited access to water contributes to poverty and socio-economic inequalities due to the lack of job opportunities and overall economic productivity.

Overcoming Challenges

An Engineering study reveals an innovative way of capturing water from naturally occurring sources, notably fog and dew. Researchers at NYU Abu Dhabi found a novel water-collecting technique using the spontaneous condensation of water vapor onto the surface of an organic crystal undergoing sublimation.

The researchers discovered that as the crystal’s surface sublimated, microscopic channels with varied widths formed, allowing condensed water to travel over the crystal’s surface. This process was responsible for the autonomous flow of dust and metallic nanoparticles along the channels. The researchers discovered a new approach to promote water flow over solid surfaces by exploiting the phenomenon of water condensation and the changing dimensions of the channels.

Efforts to achieve autonomous water flow have traditionally put an emphasis on surface chemical modifications or built microchannels. However, this work takes a completely new approach which was inspired by the natural flow of water over solid surfaces. The authors emphasize the significance of this phenomenon because natural creatures have evolved to efficiently move water for various life-supporting activities, even defying gravity in the case of plants.

This study has far-reaching ramifications, however, the research is still ongoing. These discoveries have the potential to inspire the development of novel methods that maximize the effectiveness of collecting water from atmospheric humidity, providing a new option for solving the global freshwater crisis.

Looking Ahead

The freshwater crisis remains an issue that requires proactive measures in order to secure a future of sustainable water supply. And while the discovery of humidity-capturing crystals presents a promising solution, reports suggest that further research is necessary to optimize the development of the project.

– Cherine Jang
Photo: Flickr