How 'aquapreneurs' can help solve the global water crisis
Climate changes to the water cycle are threatening global water security.
We must find solutions to restore water quality and build freshwater resilience.
Innovative and creative startups can help protect this fundamental resource.
Water takes the shape of the vessel it is in – a scienctific fact which also holds a lot of philosophical truth. We have polluted our rivers, severely depleted groundwater, made glaciers retreat, and altered rainfall.
The current state of global freshwater is a reflection of our failure to manage our fundamental needs. In the last few decades, we have managed to threaten the very resource that makes life as we know it possible on this planet. However, everything is not lost and there is still hope, but we need innovation and water-focused entrepreneurs or “aquapreneurs”.
How is the water cycle changing?
The water cycle is a far more complex subject than is taught in schools, it is not merely the movement of water through oceans, land, and the atmosphere – it is also one of the major reasons for making Earth a habitable place. Earth has 1.39 billion cubic kilometers of water: 96.5% oceans; 1.7% percent icecaps, glaciers, and snow; one thousandth of the remaining 1% is water vapour in our atmosphere.
Water vapour is a very powerful greenhouse gas (GHG) and a major driver of Earth’s climate and weather as it travels around the globe transporting latent heat. Water takes a multi-phased journey – it interacts not just with the abiotic elements but biota of the world plays a significant role in it.
For example, pollen from flowers travels in the atmosphere and forms the nucleus around which water condenses and we get precipitation. Various ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, and wetlands play crucial roles in making water available for use to life and also help regulate the system.
The complex and chaotic systems of Earth are steadily being shifted due to anthropogenic activities that are causing changes in natural variability, including solar variability and increased concentrations of GHG, which is affecting the atmospheric water vapour concentrations leading to changes in precipitation and has a cascading effect on runoffs and stream flow patterns.
It has been observed that higher water vapour concentration is leading to an increased frequency of intense precipitation events, mainly over land areas. Also, because of warmer temperatures, more precipitation is falling as rain than snow.
How does this affect people?
All these changes to the water cycle have created challenges that humanity has never had to face, from food security to ecological refugees. UNICEF has warned that the children in the Horn of Africa and the vast Sahel region could die in devastating numbers as 16.2 million people face water crises in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.
WHO data suggests that 40 million children are facing high levels of water insecurity. The lack of water, and available water not being safe, is a major issue not just in Africa but globally. The numbers for threats to the economy are also alarming. Climate change, biodiversity loss, and water crisis are all linked, and if humanity has to survive and triumph, there is an urgent need to find solutions to these challenges.
How can technology help?
Scientists and technology experts have developed various products to help conserve water. Some studies suggest that up to 30% of water is lost to leakages in distribution networks. Today there are smart monitoring technologies that use pressure and acoustic sensors for real-time monitoring of the supply system.
Agriculture is another sector, as per OECD agriculture irrigation, that accounts for 40- 70% of water depending on the country. Now farmers can utilize precision irrigation systems that use artificial intellgence and internet of things-based algorithms and modeling for effective farming that requires far less water.
Wastewater engineering has come a long way in the past three decades and many nature-based solutions are available to ensure zero discharge and recycling of water. In fact, now technology promises water treatment along with energy generation from wastewater. There are several other technologies such as DNA fingerprinting and analytics for identifying sources of water contamination to satellite imagery-based platforms for predictive analytics.
What more can be done?
The solutions are plenty and they will not just come from scientists and world leaders but also from innovative and creative minds across the globe. This is because what happens in one part of the world has the potential to impact the other part of the world.
Recognizing this, HCL has partnered with Uplink on the Global Freshwater Challenge – a platform of the World Economic Forum – to find innovative start-ups with promising solutions for restoring water quality, building freshwater resilience, and improving decision-making around this fundamental resource.
The solutions will focus on conserving and restoring freshwater ecosystems across the globe. This initiative has the potential to change the world in a way and redefine how future generations will live.
Roshni Nadar Malhotra, Chairperson, HCLTech.
This first appeared on the World Economic Forum's Agenda blog. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License
Photo by Ian Turnell