Water scarcity is considered the current biggest threat to global prosperity, as over 1 billion people today have no access to water and nearly half of the World population is feared to be influenced by water stress by 2050. By 2025, up to 2.4 billion people worldwide may be living in areas subject to periods of intense water scarcity, according to UN estimates. The African countries, India and China and most parts of Central Asia will be under severe water scarcity, while USA and South America will suffer from extreme water stress.
Water is the most precious resource for sustaining life and survival of living world, but we are losing fresh water at an astonishing rate: Climate change is resulting in disappearing of glaciers and severe droughts, groundwater being pumped out faster than natural processes can replace it. Much of the world faces a hotter and drier future under climate change, according to scientists. Rainfall – including the monsoons that fortify agriculture in south Asia – will become more unpredictable. Storm surges could contaminate freshwater reservoirs.
The Overall global water demand is projected to increase by 55 percent on the way to 2050 led by countries like Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia and China (BRIICS) to satisfy the needs of ever-growing population —a staggering 9.6 billion people by 2050.
The water shortages shall cause food production to decline reduced electrical power generation and the Economic output will suffer, due to contraction in manufacturing and resource extraction. Water shortages will deliver a “severe hit” to the economies of the Middle East, central Asia, and Africa by the middle of the century, it could strip off 14% of GDP in the Middle East and nearly 12% of GDP in the Sahel – without a radical shift in management, according to the World bank’s projections. Central Asia could lose close to 11% of GDP and east Asia about 7% under business-as-usual water management policies, according to a new report. Taking into account all regions, the mid-range toll of water shortages on GDP was about 6%.
Agriculture is the leading use of water and globally irrigated farming takes more than 60 percent of the available fresh water. In countries like China, the largest growth rate in water use will be in the industrial and domestic sectors according to the Water Resources Group. And new fault lines are emerging with energy production. America’s oil and gas rush is putting growing demands on a water supply already under pressure from drought and growing populations.
Conflicts over Water
In March 2012, the U.S. National Intelligence Council released a report, “Intelligence Community Assessment on Global Water Security,” which said “We judge that the use of water as a weapon will become more common during the next 10 years with more powerful upstream nations impeding or cutting off the downstream flow”. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon warned in 2007, water scarcity will also act as a catalyst for wars and conflict.
Historically, water tensions have led to more water-sharing agreements than violent conflicts. The recent example is the Nile that has long been a source of instability for Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. The leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have signed the agreement in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum to end a long-running dispute over the sharing of Nile waters and the building of Africa’s biggest hydroelectric dam, in Ethiopia.
However, in the future rivers, lakes and aquifers can become precious security assets and cause of various national and sub national conflicts. The Pacific Institute, which studies issues of water and global security, found a fourfold increase in violent confrontations over water over the last decade.
Thirty-four of the 37 countries presumed to be at risk of war due to the absence of trans-boundary water resources cooperation: Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Kuwait—are still at loggerheads over the Tigris-Euphrates river system. China is involved in water disputes in Southeast Asia, and its huge dams on the Mekong River have greatly affected food security for both Cambodia and Vietnam.
Chinese Dams on Yarlung Zangbo (Brahmaputra) creates tensions in India
China operationalised the largest dam in Tibet in Oct 2015, Zam Hydropower Station built at a cost of $1.5 billion, enhancing fears in India and Bangladesh about flash floods and related risks like landslides involving lives of millions of people downstream. Reports in the past said besides Zangmu, China is reportedly building few more dams.
The dams also raised concerns in India over China’s ability to release water in times of conflict which could pose serious risk of flooding. China seeks to allay Indian fears saying that they are the run-of-the-river projects which were not designed to hold water.
India Pakistan tensions due to Water
Pakistan is already one of the most water scarce on earth, and with runaway population growth and shifting rainfall patterns, the problem will intensify in coming years. This is also one source of tensions between India and Pakistan, in spite of Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) mediated by World Bank.
Pakistani officials say that India has violated the Indus Waters Treaty many times by constructing 3200 dams and barrages on the river Jhelum, which deprives Pakistan of this major source. However India says that Under the IWT India can use 1.50 MAF of water from Jhelum for its own use to fulfill the demands of catchment areas. This gives it the right to construct run-of-river multi-purpose projects.
Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Water and Power KhawajaAsif has said that the Indus Waters Treaty is not in Pakistan’s interest.
Conflicts over Water in Central Asia
Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, are opposing the plans of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to build massive hydroelectric dams upstream of the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers.
While the dam will be highly advantageous to Tajikistan, by providing 13 billion terawatt hours of electrical power per annum turning Tajikistan from a power scarce country to power exporter of electricity. However it would impound almost 14 square kilometers of water of Uzbekistan, severely restricting the badly needed flow into Uzbekistan and likely devastating the domestic cotton trade.
Water has played an important role in Yemen’s ongoing collapse. Decades of mismanagement have left the country — one of the world’s most water-scarce nations — with dilapidated water infrastructure, severely depleted groundwater reserves, and high rates of water-use inefficiency.
Physical infrastructure, including dams, has been used as convenient and high-publicity targets by extremists, terrorists, and rogue states threatening substantial harm and will become more likely.
IS uses water as weapon of war
In Iraq, ISIL has exploited access to water to expand its control over territory and to subjugate the population. IS fighters control most of the upper areas of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which flow from Turkey in the north to the Gulf in the south. All of Iraq and a large part of Syria rely on these rivers for food, water and industry.
Mahmoud Abu Zeid, president of the Arab Water Council, told Al-Monitor that the Arab region is facing a crisis because of the lack of rain and available water resources. The Arab region accounts for less than 7% of the world’s water reserves, according to Abu Zeid, and less than 1% of the flowing water, while rain does not exceed 2% of the global average. Abu Zeid predicted that IS’ attempts to control Arab water resources would lead to a water crisis that would overshadow the ongoing oil conflict, since water is a matter of life or death.
“Arab water is facing a great danger, which portends the exacerbation of the water conflict given that freshwater resources are limited. However, there is a food gap that increases with the growing population, which threatens a famine by 2025 in the absence of concerted efforts,” Abu Zeid said.
United Nations has called for the addition to all the water treaties of “monitoring provisions, enforcement mechanisms, and specific water allocation provisions that address variations in water flow and changing needs.”
Water Crisis Management
On September 25, 2015, the global development agenda for the next 15 years was set at the United Nations General Assembly following the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Stand-alone and integrated water goal SDG6 has been included, specifically SDG 6.4 aims to “substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.”
Engineering solutions to water shortages—including the transfer of water between rivers—are becoming increasingly common, particularly as urban water demands grow. Under China’s south-to-north diversion project, 9.5 billion cubic meters of water shall be supplied annually to the northern regions, including the cities of Beijing and Tianjin, and provinces of Henan and Hebei.
Water Conservation Technologies
The improvement in Water Efficiency is required, which are hovering at around 1-2% per year to address the supply-demand gap. California, for example, enacted historic new water conservation rules in 2015, mandating urban residents to reduce water use by 25 percent.
Water Conservation Technologies and water conservation devices need to be adopted for the benefit of the environment and future generations like GM technologies, Micro–irrigation or drip systems, Leakage detection equipment and water consumption software.
Waterless solutions like Freedom Waterless Car Wash, water-efficient irrigation systems and horticultural software, Water efficient appliances like dishwashers, showerheads, and toilets are becoming popular.
Graphene-based sieve for Seawater desalination
Desalination is another strategy, which is especially effective in coastal areas. But the process had been expensive and energy-intensive.
Now, Researchers at the University of Manchester in England have developed a graphene-based membrane that filters the salt out of seawater, making it drinkable. This development could provide drinking water to millions of people who live in countries where access to fresh, drinkable water is limited. It’s also a promising discovery for South Africa – the Western Cape in particular – given the drought.
Graphene oxide membranes have already proven their worth in sieving out small nanoparticles, organic molecules and even large salts. But until now, they couldn’t be used to filter out common salts, which require even smaller sieves.
Previous work had shown that graphene oxide membranes became slightly swollen when immersed in water, allowing smaller salts to flow through the pores along with water molecules. Now, Dr Nair and colleagues demonstrated that placing walls made of epoxy resin (a substance used in coatings and glues) on either side of the graphene oxide membrane was sufficient to stop the expansion
New zero energy technology to produce drinking water
Crystal Lagoons, a patented technology developer of giant crystalline lagoons, has developed a new technology to deal with a shortage of potable fresh water, a problem that affects more than a billion people worldwide.
The experimental desalination technology project is a ‘zero energy’ solution that would use wasted energy from Northern Chile’s 12 thermo-electric plants to potentially generate enough potable water for the country’s entire population, said a statement. This wasted energy is the equivalent of eight times the world’s renewable energy capacity and has huge global potential, it said.
The technology has already been patented in the US via the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (UNPTO) Green Fast Track programme, which gives preference to granting patents to technologies that have a high ecological impact and environmental contribution, according to TradeArabia News Service
World’s largest seawater desalination plant
Israel has built the world’s largest modern seawater desalination plant, the Sorek Plant that provide 20 percent of the water consumed by the country’s households. Built for the Israeli government by Israel Desalination Enterprises, or IDE Technologies, at a cost of around $500 million, it uses a conventional desalination technology called reverse osmosis (RO). At the heart of the Sorek plant are polymer membranes inside tubes. When seawater is passed through the tubes and placed under pressure, fresh water is forced through the membranes, and saltier water is held back
The Sorek plant by incorporating a number of engineering improvements like large diameter pressure tubes, and highly efficient pumps and energy recovery devices has produced a desalination plant with lowest energy consumption.
In the future advanced membranes made of atom-thick sheets of carbon, hold the promise of further cutting the energy needs of desalination plants. By 2016, when additional plants will be running, some 50 percent of the country’s water is expected to come from desalination. It has demonstrated that seawater desalination can cost-effectively provide a substantial portion of a nation’s water supply.
The United Arab Emirates, faced with a growing population, have invested in desalination projects and is harvesting rainwater. Australia, Singapore, and several countries in the Persian Gulf are already heavy users of seawater desalination, and California is also starting to embrace the technology
Wastewater recovery and reuse
Wastewater recovery and reuse, on the other hand, on average uses about half the energy of desalination, and costs about half as much. Yet, while the technology exists to recover a large percent of wastewater, the world today only reuses about 4 percent of its wastewater.
Israel, despite its desert terrain, meager rainfall and population growth, currently boasts a water surplus; it is reusing 85-90 percent of its wastewater. Saudi Arabia recently announced a plan to reuse 65 percent of its wastewater. Then there’s Singapore. The island city-state is reusing 30 percent of its water — punching well above its weight in terms of water reuse policies and technologies.
Solving Singapore’s water problem by Recycling of sewage
Water security has long been a national priority in Singapore as half of its current water supplies are imported from neighboring Malaysia. “We are preparing for the day that should the water agreement expire, we should be ready to fulfill our own needs,” says Chew Men Leong, Chief Executive of the Public Utilities Board.
Singapore’s strategy for a hydrated nation is four-fold: as well as importation, it includes desalinization plants, efficient catchment of rainwater and recycling of sewage.
Country’s public utilities board has developed innovative membrane technology to treat wastewater known as ‘NEWater’. Through a four-step series of barriers and membranes, wastewater is made free of solids, microorganisms, and contaminants resulting in potable water supplies for use by humans and industry. After one decade, the technology meets 30 percent of Singapore’s water needs, with plans to triple volumes by 2060.
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