Water is something we often don’t really think too much about. In fact, it is something we can easily take for granted. However, for billions around the world, access to safe drinking water is not an option. Further, by 2030, water scarcity could displace 700 million people. The majority of displaced people will be from developing countries. Sustainable Development Goal 6, ‘ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’ recognises that countries’ social development and economic prosperity depend on the sustainable management of freshwater resources and ecosystems. In 2017 there were 2.2 billion people who lacked safe drinking water and 4.2 billion people who lacked safe sanitation. This has severe health impacts and a range of individuals, charities, businesses and Governments need to work on developing solutions.
Lets look at the targets:
- By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
- By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations
- By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally
- By 2030, 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
- By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate
- By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes
- By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies
- Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management
Saving water with our diets
Agriculture offers opportunities for significant water savings given that the agricultural sector accounts for nearly 70 per cent of global freshwater withdrawals. Meat production is one of the highest users of water in agriculture. Cutting down meat consumption can lower emissions and water usage as well! Check out this article for more about food and water consumption here. Below is a table highlighting the litres of water per kilogram of various foods.
AgTech in Australia
There is a lot of water innovation happening in agriculture including using sensors to manage soil health (for water retention) as well as water management systems and more accurate weather forecasting. Australia is leading in many respects to water management in Agriculture. As a dry climate, it is critical to have strong Research and Development and commercialisation that can scale across industries and countries.
The Yield is an Australian AgTech company who are transforming the agricultural system by bringing new technology solutions to support more efficient natural resource management. Their founder Ros Harvey is a personal hero of mine and is a passionate advocate for bringing technology to the Agricultural industry in a way that promotes sustainability. They have a microclimate solution called Sensing+ which provides acitonable insights to manage water usage, identify diesease risks, track the growth of crops. By understanding the specific local needs of crops, it reduces over watering dramatically and only gives the crops what they need. Read more here.
Saving water around the home
There are some innovative approaches to saving water in new developments. Aquarevo in Melbourne’s South East is a great example of how homes can be transformed to save water. According to Water Sensitive Cities, by combining water management initiatives and working with house builders they reduced potable (drinking) water use for each home in the development by up to 70%. The key innovative approaches are:
- Rainwater to hot water: Each home has a rainwater tank that feeds a hot water system to supply bathing water, the laundry trough and the washing machine. This is a first for urban development in Victoria that could unlock approximately 35% of a household’s water demand for supply using an alternative source.
- On-site recycled water plant: Wastewater from the development is collected in a pressure sewer system and transferred to an on-site treatment plant. Class A recycled water is then be supplied to homes for irrigation, cold water washing machine supply and toilet flushing.
- Talk Tank® and OneBox® smart systems:
A OneBox® control system monitors the water systems in the home, providing real-time information on water use, monitoring of the rainwater to hot water and pressure sewer systems, and the Talk Tank® system, which can release rainwater from the tank in advance of a rain storm.
Check out the video here for more information about Aquarevo.
Learning about our water usage around the house
In Australia, investing in rainwater tanks around the house is critical for water. Understanding our everyday habits and water sources can really help to make small changes that make a big difference.
Although it is a US based quiz, watercalculator.org has a great interactive quiz to understand the impact of our everyday consumption of water.
Providing safe water around the world
Last year I met the Founder of Wristsponsible, Kevin Sofen. Wristsponsible is a global movement actively implementing water solutions while empowering individuals to work together for a ‘wristsponsible’ world.
It all started when Kevin found out that 1 in 9 people lack access to safe water across the world after a trip to China and Ghana in 2011. The impact of consuming dirty water cripples a community’s ability to develop out of poverty, cascading into numerous health and economic problem. He knew he needed to do something so he went to Nepal to install a water system.
This grew into Wristsponsible, a charity that works with grassroots charities around the world to implement water projects. They work with local charities because they understand the needs of the local community best and they can also offer ongoing maintenance for the water projects once they are implemented.
Read the Planet B Insights article here.
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have an interesting and impactful approach to safe sanitation and drinking water. They work with Governments, businesses, entrepreneurs, and locals to accelerate innovations in non-sewered sanitation technology and service delivery. Their regions of focus are in densely populated areas of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
According to their website, estimates suggest that the lack of proper sanitation costs the world an estimated $223 billion every year. Worldwide, it has been estimated that every dollar spent on sanitation on average provides at least five dollars in economic return. And market research shows that the annual market value for new, pro-poor sanitation technologies such as the reinvented toilet, could be more than $6 billion globally by 2030.
There is a massive social, environmental and economic challenge with sanitation, water management and safe water. In 2011, the Foundation launched an innovation challenge where Engineers, Scientists and Businesses worked to design low-cost toilets that do not require connections to the electrical grid, water supply, or sewers. By bringing people together, providing funding and trial locations they were able to stimulate innovation and better outcomes for people without access to sanitation. Read more about their work as well as the amazing examples and outcomes here.
To reach the Sustainable Development Goals around accessible and safe water, we need a mix of individual behaviours, Foundations, Governments, Housing Developers, and Businesses to drive the systemic and scalable change. From changing our food habits to buying houses with better water infrastructure, there is a lot we need to do to try and reach this mammoth goal.