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Cities That Will Run Out of WaterOver 70 percent of the world’s surface area is covered in water. However, the majority of the world’s poor, who number about three billion, live in areas absent of clean water. Most of the earth’s water is saltwater, but there are still means to purify it for drinking and cooking purposes.

According to UNICEF, women may spend between 30 minutes to eight hours a day searching for water. The average walking distance for women in Africa and Asia is 6.0 km (3.7 miles) to walk and carry the water for their families. The following are all cities that will run out of water soon without proper attention.

  1. Cape Town, South Africa: There might be a large-scale shutdown of tap water this summer. Mayor Patricia de Lille laments that residents have not heeded to advice to reduce consumption. If national consumption exceeds the dam capacity, there will be a total shutdown this April. This is referred to as “Day Zero.”

    Solution: Large-scale desalination plants along the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.

  2. Sao Paolo, Brazil: Brazil’s largest city was recently devastated by droughts. The Cantareira Reservoir is now a cracked and parched dirt field. This is a result of reduced rainfall and increased demand for water by the unauthorized settling of residents in nearby areas.

    Solution: Restoring degraded forests; this will prevent soil erosion, floods and allow for plants to store the water naturally and recycle it as a watershed.

  3. Bangalore, India: This city cannot ignore the water shortage any longer. The local demand far exceeds the available cubic meters of safe water. Bangalore has a reputation of possessing the most inefficient water pumping and distribution network in all of Asia.

    Solution: Repair the rampant leakage in the corroded, 100- to 200-year-old piping system, and improve the efficiency of the distribution system. Water is plentiful in Bangalore, but a modern distribution mechanism will ensure it evades being among the cities that will run out of water soon.

  4. Beijing, China: China is home to nearly 20 percent of the world’s population, but only has seven percent of the world’s freshwater. To make matters worse, what little water it has is unsafe for drinking due to pollution. Furthermore, the Chinese government has authorized the construction of oil refineries in areas where water is scarce, such as the Xinjiang province.

    Solution: Recycle more than half of its water, which would be on the same standard as developed European nations. With this development, Beijing can strive for a living standard of cleaner water instead of being among the first cities that will run out of water.

  5. Cairo, Egypt: The Nile is almost all of the country’s source of water. A city of 20 million people, and rapidly growing, does not fare well with a fixed water share. Some farmers have even been forced to irrigate using sewage water.

    Solution: Currently, the Egyptian government is urging people to move to surrounding cities whose water sources are detached from Cairo. This will reduce the water stress on the city and prevent further stress on new desalination plants exclusively for the city of Cairo.

Better planning and management of water sources are only possible once wealth increases and corruption is eradicated. Eliminating undue bureaucracy is a difficult step, so it is important to approach each of these cities’ challenges on a needs basis. It is necessary to understand that water is not only a basic human need but also a basic human right.

– Awad Bin-Jawed

Photo: Flickr

Solving the Water Shortage in Israel and Palestine
Less than a decade ago, a serious water shortage in Israel threatened the quality of life and future survival of the Israeli people. Water quality and abundance in Israel have improved in recent years with the help of desalination techniques that turn Mediterranean seawater and wastewater into usable water.

Israel is an arid, Mediterranean country with a history of extreme water shortages. The seven-year drought that began in 2005 depleted Israel’s natural water sources and compromised the quality of the water. The Israeli government established the Water Authority in 2007 to focus the efforts on solving the water shortage in Israel.

One of the government’s methods for fixing the water shortage in Israel was its implementation of desalination plants that produce more than 130 billion gallons of water per year. Some experts say that desalination is becoming a cheap and energy efficient way to treat water.

Desalination processes make more than 50 percent of water for various sectors of Israel, including homes, agriculture and industry. Water is now more expensive for farmers, but it is at least readily available.

Israel also reuses and recycles wastewater for agricultural purposes by treating 86 percent of domestic wastewater. The nation now leads as the world’s top water recycler.

Despite plentiful water supplies for Israel, the nation shares its mountain aquifer with the West Bank. Israel claims that it gives Palestinians more than what peace accords require it to give, but Palestinians are not satisfied with the amount or cost of the water.

The technology that solved the water shortage in Israel has not helped the Palestinians who rely on Israel’s water sources. The agreements that provided Palestinians with 20 percent of the water from the mountain aquifer have become outdated as the Palestinian population has almost doubled.

According to The Economist, Palestinians get an average of 73 liters of water a day. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 100 liters of water per day. To make matters worse, the coastal aquifer that Palestinians in Gaza rely on is polluted and could soon become permanently damaged.

Israelis have water thanks to revolutionary water treating techniques. Complex political and social struggles prevent Palestinians from gaining access to the same water. Now that Israel has solved its own water shortage, its actions will largely decide if Palestinians get the water that they need to survive.

Addie Pazzynski

Photo: Flickr

seawater_desalination
The Gaza Strip has a population of 1.7 million, which is expected to grow to 2.1 million by 2020. The demand for clean water access will also undoubtedly increase. In lieu of rivers or streams, the region has thus far had to survive by drawing water from its lone coastal aquifer. However, water is being extracted at a rate of 47 billion gallons per year, and has far surpassed its annual rate replenishment of around 16 billion gallons.

This has caused the aquifer to fill with salinated water from the Mediterranean. Estimates show that approximately 90 percent of the water drawn is unsafe to consume. In addition to the sea water influx, the aquifer is contaminated by untreated sewage. Roughly 90,000 cubic meters of sewage flows from Gaza to the coastal waters.

The demand for water has caused many unregulated vendors to begin selling water to make a profit, but roughly 80 percent of the water sold by street vendors is also contaminated. The desperation of Gazans, however, has become increasingly apparent. As many as 4 out of 5 will resort to purchasing potentially unsafe water by these private sellers.

In addition to a possibly serious health risk, this also places an economic strain on many Gazans. “Some families are paying as much as a third of their household income on water,” states June Kunugi, a UNICEF Representative for Palestine.

In response to Gaza’s water crisis, UNICEF has worked to complete 18 small desalination taps where residents can draw water free of charge. Also provided, are 3 brackish (mixed fresh & saltwater) plants that are capable of desalinating 50 cubic metres per hour and 10 plants capable of treating 50 cubic metres per day. In total, these plants are estimated to provide water for 95,000 residents.

In 2013, the European Union (EU) announced a collaboration with UNICEF to build a major seawater desalination plant. The project was made possible by a €10 million grant provided by the European Union. The plant is projected to provide 6,000 square metres of water to residents of the two cities.

In an announcement of the project, European Union Representative John Gatt-Rutter stated “The launch of construction work on this desalination plant, offers the prospect of access to clean water for many thousands of families in Khan Younis and Rafah. It forms part of the EU’s wider commitment to improving the lives of Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank, particularly in the area of water, sanitation and solid waste management.”

The 18 km pipeline that divides water between the cities of Rafah and Khan Younis was recently completed, marking the first step towards a monumental solution. Once the plant is completed in late 2015, it is expected to be capable of providing clean water to more than 75,000 Gazans.

– Frasier Petersen

Sources: Al Jazeera America, UNICEF, Water Technology
Photo: Al Jazeera America

desalination
By 2050, it is estimated that the world’s demand for water will have increased by 55 percent. Many countries are expected to face water crises worse than any in recorded history. The hunt is on for solutions that will make clean water accessible to everyone, especially those in areas with few resources. One such solution is the groundwater desalination system. Invented by Jain Irrigation Systems and a team from MIT, the system’s potential is promising and recently received the USAID Desal Prize.

In many countries, the challenge lies not in the quantity of water but in its quality. Groundwater is water that has been trapped underground for years. It is fairly easy to access through traditional wells and pumps, but it is usually not pure. The biggest challenge is brackish groundwater, or water that has just enough salt in it to make it unsuitable for irrigation and drinking. Since about 70 percent of all water use occurs in food production, finding a way to make groundwater pure enough for irrigation purposes would be a major coup in the field of water management.

The system designed by Jain and MIT uses solar panels to generate electricity that can be used by the system immediately or stored in batteries for overnight operation. The desalination component uses a process called electrodialysis. To pull the salt from the water, two electrodes with opposing charges are aligned opposite each other; the water is run between them. The salt dissolved in the water has a very slight charge, which means the salt particles will be pulled to one electrode or the other. The water is then passed through a series of membranes that filter out larger particles. This method of desalination would not work for extremely saline water, like seawater, but it does a good job on groundwater. Once the groundwater is free of salt, the system treats it with UV light. This kills the bacteria in the water and makes it potable.

Desalination is one of the most energy intensive methods of water reclamation around, but this system is essentially self-sufficient. In field trials, it was found to recover about 90 percent of the water input, almost double the amount that current reverse-osmosis desalination systems typically recover. It has the potential to supply water to between 2,000 and 5,000 people, which is the size of a typical rural Indian village. In trials, it has proven durable and capable of 24-hour operation, something which cannot be said for many prototypes.

With these successes to its name, it is no wonder that researchers are eager to install prototypes for field evaluations in India as early as next year.

– Marina Middleton

Sources: IFL Science, Securing Water for Food 1, Securing Water for Food 2, Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd.
Photo: Inhabitat

dry spell
February 2014 was the driest month in Singapore since 1869. Only seven brief sprinkles fell, giving the area an underwhelming .2 mm of rain. Malaysia has also felt the drought’s impact, as the state of Selangor and the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, have begun water rationing.

Singapore relies heavily on Malaysia for its water supply, importing nearly 60% of its water from the region. Under a 1962 water agreement, Singapore imports most of its water from the Malay state of Johore. The agreement has caused tension between the two countries in the past, and Singapore has decided not to pursue a renewal of the agreement past its 2061 expiration.

Therefore, Singapore has increasingly focused on improving its water self-sufficiency. Currently, Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources estimates that Singapore could potentially provide up to 55% of the country’s water needs. The government has increasingly emphasized building up desalination and recycled water technology while also pushing to increase the country’s water catchment area.

Unfortunately, Singapore’s current water supply does not stack up to the potential effects of the current drought. The National Environment Agency predicts the dry spell will continue into early March. With the poor weather set to continue in both Singapore and Malaysia, water consumption in the area must decrease accordingly.

Resultantly, the Singaporean government has started a public campaign urging water conservation. It has encouraged citizens to cut down on washing cars, irrigating plants and to be more conscious about switching off water faucets and fountains in between use.

Through increasing the water consciousness of its citizenry, Singapore hopes to effectively combat its water shortage.

As of yet, the drought in Singapore has not had a profound effect on the lives of Singaporeans. However, it has reaffirmed Singapore’s vulnerability to water shortages and droughts and demonstrated the need for water conservation initiatives within the city-state. If Singapore will achieve water-self sufficiency it must prepare itself to withstand episodes such as the current drought.

Martin Levy

Sources: Today Online, BBC News, NEA, Singapore Infopedia
Photo: Brohenson Files

colorado-river_fresh_water_global_poverty_demand_environment_opt
The water problem is an increasingly serious one.  The accessibility of fresh water is a pressing issue that must be addressed immediately. According to environmental scholars Jay Withgott and Scott Brennan, “Roughly 97.5% of the Earth’s water resides in the oceans and is too salty to drink or use to water crops.” This means that only 2.5% of water is designated as “fresh” and safe to consume. However, most of this fresh water is frozen and therefore inaccessible to humans. Because there is so little fresh water available and almost seven billion humans living on the planet who need that water, this precious resource must be carefully preserved.

Supply and Demand

Biologists and environmental scholars present a number of solutions to the impending fresh water shortage. Desalinization is a prominent but expensive method in which salt is extracted from salt water creating fresh water through the process of condensation. This type of solution would increase fresh water supply.

The foil to a solution that increases supply is a  solution that reduces demand. Although these kinds of solutions are more difficult to implement, they would be the most effective because they confront the root of the problem: excess demand. These solutions include genetic engineering of crops, irrigation methods that minimize wasted water, and the personal consumption of less meat. Fortunately, the United States has already begun the implementation of these conservation practices, but there is always room for improvement.

– Josh Forgét

Source: The Guardian Essential Environment
Photo: Peak Water

Borgen_Project_Hillary_Clinton_US_Water_Partnership_Whitney_Michelle_Whitney_Wyszynski_Water_Challenges

It’s been one year since former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the start of the U.S. Water Partnership. The partnership consists of public and private sectors and “unites and mobilizes U.S. expertise, resources, and ingenuity to address water challenges around the globe.”

According to the fact sheet, “The USWP is an alliance of 18 U.S. government agencies and 29 U.S. private sector and civil society organizations.” However, the USWP has increased from 47 to 61 partnerships in the last year. They work together to improve water resources worldwide and focus primarily on developing countries.

The partners pledged $610 million dollars on June 20, 2012. Funded projects included: control or elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases, increased solar power pump stations, and improved desalination projects.

The success of the USWP depends on collaboration and flexibility. Partners are able to work in groups or individually. For example, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation revitalized water purification systems throughout Ghana by providing funds for the Ghana National Water Infrastructure Modernization Project.  World Vision helped boost rural and semi-urban schools in India through the “Support My School” campaign, whereas multiple organizations joined forces to provide WASH technologies. These technologies decrease infection and increase public health.

Hattie Babbitt, Chair of the USWP Steering Committee, led the USWP first anniversary event at the National Academy of Sciences on Mar. 21, 2013.  She discussed the numerous projects that could not have occurred without the help of the partnership and congratulated the ten new partners. The USWP continues to grow and progress and strives to bring each person safe drinking water.

Whitney M. Wyszynski

Source: U.S. Water Partnerships
Photo: US Water Alliance

A study from NASA and the University of California – Irvine shows that the Middle East is losing its fresh water reserves. From 2003 to 2009, around 144 cubic kilometers of water have been lost from the Middle East. The study utilized observations from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to evaluate trends of freshwater storage in the Middle East. The “lost water” comes from water resources below the Earth’s surface that are drilled for and relied on in times of drought. This recent news reminds us that water, like oil, is a finite resource. However, Qatar seems to have found a way to manage through this water crisis.

In a TED talk earlier this year in Doha, Qatar, Fahad Al-Attiya, Chairman of Qatar’s National Food Security Programme, delivered a talk on his job, maintaining food security in a country that has no water and imports 90% of its food. Qatar is a country that is rich in oil, boasts strong economic growth, and has a rapidly expanding population. And with a rapidly expanding population comes rising levels of water consumption. The population of Qatar has grown to 1.7 million in less than 60 years. Water consumption levels are at 430 liters a day, the highest in the world. Qatar has gone from having no water to consuming water to the highest degree. Regardless, the country has maintained consistent growth of 15% every year for the past five years without water. This, Al-Attiya says, is “historic.”

The answer to the question of how this was possible is desalination. The process of desalination consists of removing salt from seawater, allowing for Qatar to compensate for depleting water levels in the aquifers. This is a revolutionary change, leaving Qatar in a state of “structurally-induced water abundance.” Utilizing reverse osmosis and solar desalination technologies, desalination presents a very sustainable solution to a country that receives less than 74 millimeters of rain a year. Through desalination, Qatar is able to produce 3.5 million cubic meters of water. This water will go to farmers that will be able to supply the country with food. Al-Attiya calls it “the best technology that this region could ever have.” For the next year, this will be Al-Attiya’s work. His goal is for Qatar to become a millennium city.

March 22 marks World Water Day and the International Year of Water Cooperation. Around the world, many will participate in World Walks for Water and Sanitation, a global event aimed at addressing the world’s water crisis. More than 780 million lack access to clean water. More than 3 million die every year due to the scarcity of this resource. Qatar, along with the UAW and Saudi Arabia, are working on large-scale desalination projects. In India, farmers are looking into System of Rice Intensification (SRI) to reap record breaking harvests of rice. Through investing in projects and innovations like desalination and SRI, we can more efficiently and more effectively manage the world’s most important resource.

– Rafael Panlilio

Sources: CNNTEDWater.org