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

Rulindo ChallengeThe Rulindo Challenge is an initiative developed in 2010 by the partnership of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Water For People and the Rwandan government. The Challenge acts as a permanent solution to provide full water access to the northern, rural Rwandan province of Rulindo by 2018.

Approximately 285,000 people reside in the Rulindo District. The terrain of the area is mostly hills and valleys, so springs and groundwater make up the main sources of water in Rulindo.

According to a report by Water For People, prior to the Rulindo Challenge the area lacked proper standards in terms of the water quality in Rwanda. Only 29% of the population had access to safe drinking water and just six percent of water systems were likely to provide sustainable water service.

Goals of the Rulindo Challenge

Rulindo’s 2016 goals include increasing the levels of water access by 11% through sustainable water infrastructure, such as installing eight piped water systems in five areas and water tanks in 13 schools. A new health care facility was also constructed as a result of the goals.

The Rulindo Challenge also seeks to increase the newly established water infrastructure’s sustainability to 100% at the end of 2016, building the technical and financial capacity needed for two private operators and the district water board members and staff. To implement these goals, the progressive partnership has developed a systematic approach in order to meet district-wide demands for clean water and sanitation. The joint partners set out to achieve sustainability challenges to meet current local capacity and strength, leveraging locally available resources and striving to serve as a model for replication.

What Has it Already Accomplished?

According to a report by Water For People, “community water service has increased 20 percentage points to 49 percent in the district as a result of these activities.” The water and sanitation at schools and clinics also increased drastically to 67% in the Rulindo District.

Currently, nearly 118,000 community water beneficiaries, 114 connections at 68 public institution water systems and over 51,500 public water beneficiaries have been created since the beginning of the Rulindo Challenge to improve water quality in Rwanda.

The initiative resulted in improved access to water supply for 60,000 people. In addition, the quality of the water mechanisms is expected to last well into the future. Sustainability measures in 2012 recorded just six percent prior to the Rulindo Challenge.

The increase in sustainability to 89% resulted in an 83-point percentage overall improvement. Due to the increased sustainability in the district, the implementation of the strategies and approaches shows that communities and public institutions will have safe, reliable access to drinking water for many years to come.

When the Rulindo Challenge concludes in 2018, the partners will implement a thorough exit strategy to ensure that the maintenance and protection of the water resources remain intact. In addition, the partners will implement a plan for climate change resilience to promote sustainability and access to adequate water sources for generations to come.

Haylee Gardner

Photo: Flickr

cell phone signals
Like many developing or impoverished countries, Rwanda continues to be a victim of inadequate water supply and accessibility. However, a project piloted by an Oregon university may help put a dent in the nation’s water problem.

The idea is to use remote sensors to measure water supply. A project spearheaded by SweetSense Inc., and designed by Sustainable Water, Energy and Environmental Technologies Laboratory (SWEETLab) in partnership with the NGO Living Water International, the sensors will allow water pumps to be installed throughout the nation of Rwanda.

The sensors work by using cell phone signals to transmit details about water pumps through cloud computing infrastructure. The data the sensors collect includes information on water pressure, water quantity and when people are pumping water. Then, the data can be accessed through an online dashboard.

On any given day, thousands of water pumps are installed throughout Africa. Unfortunately, many usually fail within their first several years of implementation, and are never repaired or replaced. With SWEETLab’s sensors, technicians receive notifications by text message to alert them if a pump is broken or needs repair.

With a price tag of approximately $500 per unit, each sensor is battery-operated and is outfitted in a waterproof box. While 30 sensors have been already installed, Living Water International plans to install 200 sensors by the end of the year.

In collaboration with Portland State University, SWEETLab “develops and implements technologies for the support of life in remote environments.” The research organization works with academic institutions, industries and nonprofits throughout the world. Its research “focuses on improving accountability and methodologies for international development through improved data collection.”

SWEETLab has also helped to produce gravity water filters and clean-burning stoves. Kenya, Indonesia, Haiti, Rwanda and other countries have already implemented these technologies for use.

Rwanda is home to over 12 million people. According to Water For People, roughly 69 percent of Rwandans have access to clean water and sanitation services. It is also one of several African countries on target to accomplish seven of the eight Millenium Development Goals by 2015.

– Ethan Safran

Sources: All Africa, All Africa, Forbes, CIA, UNICEF, PDX, Water For People
Photo: Devex