Thirsty for Solution: 6 Ways to Deal with Globally Rising Water Stress

Over 70% of our planet is covered in water. One might think that it should be plentiful. Yet, we are still on the verge of a global water crisis. This is because freshwater – the one we use for drinking, irrigation, and the vast majority of daily activities – is only about 3% of the total pool i.e., it is extremely rare. What is more, most of the freshwater is unavailable for use as it is tucked away in glaciers. As a result, millions across the globe face issues with water access, scarcity, sanitation, and much more. Over one billion people struggle with water stress, and nearly 2.4 billion are exposed to various diseases due to inadequate sanitation.

What is causing the water stress and where is it the most prevalent?

Water stress is a ratio measuring water demand to renewable supply. The water demand has been growing substantially. Since 1960 it has more than doubled and this trend is only expected to continue. By 2050, an additional 1 billion people are expected to live under extreme water stress. Enhanced water scarcity largely owes to a globally growing population, climate change, unsustainable water management, poor use policies, and inadequate infrastructure. Formally, water scarcity is divided into two categories: shortage due to ecological conditions and economic scarcity i.e., unavailability of adequate infrastructure to deliver water.

Not all countries experience the same degree of water stress as each has different levels of available reserves alongside management approaches and risk mitigation measures. Bahrain, Cyprus, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, and Qatar top the list of the most water-stressed countries. Middle East and North Africa struggle with water scarcity the most, exposing nearly 83% of their population to extremely high levels of water stress. The two regions are followed by South Asia.

What to expect with the current water scarcity trend?

According to the latest statistics, over 30% of global GDP (approx. 70 trillion USD) will be influenced by water scarcity by 2050. These numbers can be translated into hampered economic growth and spiking food insecurity globally. In addition, water deprivation can spur the transmission of various diseases from cholera and typhoid to polio, diarrhea, and Hepatitis A.

How to address global water stress?

Rising water stress is a highly complex challenge requiring global commitment. It should be tackled with a combination of conservation efforts, policy measures, tech innovations, flourishing infrastructure, and encouragement of more responsible consumption. Here are some of the key strategic decisions to mitigate water stress levels:

  1. Rethink Agricultural Practices

The first step in tackling water stress issues is to be mindful of available resources. This means making every possible effort for their conservation. Various technologies can help minimize water use, especially in highly water-intensive industries. For example, Agriculture has been known as one of the major contributors to water pollution and epicenter of stress challenges. Therefore, this industry might as well be the origin of solutions.

With drip irrigation systems, we can deliver water right to the plant roots minimizing losses from evaporation or run-off. Soil moisture systems detect actual water needs for the plants, preventing over-irrigation. Precision agriculture technologies, such as GPS and remote sensing, let farmers tailor their water and nutrient applications to the individual needs of different field parts, optimizing input use and crop yields. AI and machine learning algorithms facilitate more prudent decision-making. E.g., support with the creation of efficient irrigation schedules, selection of the best crop varieties for given conditions, or even the prediction of market trends for strategic planning.

Protecting and maintaining water quality is another crucial aspect. Biofiltration systems are effective for removing water pollutants. Cover crops and conservation tillage are some of the strategies offered by tech advancements to protect water quality. Both can help reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff.

  1. Transform Water Policies

Sustainable water policies are vital for relieving water stress. The integrated water resources management (IWRM) approach considers the entire water cycle as well as the different users of the resource. It helps balance competing demands and as a result, avoids over-extraction of water from a particular source. What is more, IWRM optimizes water allocation distributing it based on the priorities of users in different sectors. The approach also emphasizes the importance of community engagement in water resources management and long-term sustainability.

  1. Develop and Upgrade Water Infrastructure

Modernization of water infrastructure can help enhance efficiency and reduce losses from potential leakages. This includes the repair and replacement of aging pipelines, pumps, or storage facilities. Deployment of smart technologies such as sensors, meters, and RT monitoring systems can help optimize water distribution, detect leaks, and provide data for more prudent decision-making. Upgrading and developing wastewater and treatment plants can contribute to the creation of a circular water economy system, creating a sustainable alternative to water needs.

  1. Promote Responsible Consumption

The reduction in water stress levels is a shared responsibility for all. This is why countries must raise awareness regarding water scarcity and its implications. What is more, it is essential to foster responsible water consumption for long-term sustainability and resilience across all communities.

  1. Foster Transboundary Cooperation

As water-related challenges often transcend national boundaries, it is utterly important to have an international buy-in on solving pressing issues. Countries and regions share water resources, numerous river basins span multiple countries, pollution of water bodies originates at one location and affects the downstream, and droughts have regional and sometimes even global impacts. Thus, our world needs to understand that coping with water scarcity has to be a cumulative effort rather than a standalone activity. The establishment and enforcement of international standards such as for water quality, pollution prevention, and movement of pollutants can play a pivotal role in solving water-related challenges.

  1. Invest in Research and Innovation

Research and innovation are crucial for developing sustainable solutions that facilitate water stress reduction. They provide the foundation for informed decision-making. Research helps us better understand our water systems, including hydrological cycles, groundwater dynamics, and the impact of climate change on water availability. This knowledge is fundamental for effective water management. Advances in technology help maintain and mitigate water stress levels. For example, desalination technology can provide an additional source of freshwater in regions facing severe water scarcity.

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