Drinking water is a precious commodity and is all too often taken for granted. Yet the war for water has long since begun.
Freshwater is essential for our survival, but growing demand for water, climate change, pollution and mismanagement may mean that supplies will soon dwindle.
The way we use it has a significant impact on our environment. Around one billion people now lack access to clean drinking water, and it is estimated that half of all people will live without sufficient clean drinking water in some regions by 20 years from now. Population growth, urbanisation, agriculture and industrialisation will continue to increase demand for water in the future, while supplies will become scarcer.
We need to change our attitudes and behaviours around water use at societal as well as private levels to protect our water supplies and end the war for water. What do we use precious drinking water for in the western world?
Water consumption in private households
A five-minute shower uses an average of 60 litres of water, while a full bath requires almost three times as much. A toilet flush requires an average of six litres of water- In Germany, toilets continue to be flushed with drinking water, against all common sense.
Although drinking water use in Germany has been reduced by 23 litres per day since 1991 by means of improved technologies, there is still potential for savings and improvement. Furthermore, the provision of drinking water and wastewater disposal requires energy, which in turn has an additional impact on the environment.
Rome’s ancient sewage system, Cloaca Maxima, is the oldest known sewage system in the world
In many countries around the world, outdated wastewater systems are a growing problem, affecting not only water quality but also the environment and people’s health. There are many reasons for this, ranging from lack of investment in infrastructure to inadequate maintenance of the systems.
Outdated wastewater systems can lead to a deterioration of water quality by encouraging the spread of harmful substances in water bodies. These pollutants can have long-term effects on human and animal health and also affect ecological diversity.
Precious water that just trickles away
Much of the precipitation runs straight back into the world’s oceans, and around 70-80% of tap water is lost through leaking systems and outdated technology. We also waste huge amounts of water while consuming water-intensive foods such as meat and fish. According to the International Institute for Water Management, global water demand will increase by 25% by 2030, while available resources will become scarcer.
Water scarcity will become a global problem and conflicts over access to water will intensify.
Some countries will start importing water, and water-scarce countries may trade goods such as oil for clean water. Water theft and lawsuits over water shortages are likely to lead to many conflicts. Oceans could also become catalysts for inter-state conflicts. Access to the seabed brings riches in the form of oil, coal and rare minerals, which has often been the trigger for conflicts in the past.
Water theft could lead to international conflicts in the future.
In the future, countries could sue each other if artificial production of rain through cloud seeding or geoengineering projects cause water shortages in another country.
Cloud seeding technology has been discussed for some time. Drones search for clouds with high moisture content. Silver iodide is then usually deployed in these. The material promotes ice formation. The liquid then collects around the ice particles until the individual drops are heavier than air – and fall towards the ground as rain.
As a result of the water shortage, agricultural production could shift to less water-intensive crops. It is even possible that the consumption of certain foods will be socially outlawed if they use too much precious water, such as lettuce.
However, an excess of water can also lead to conflict. Climate change could cause flooding in coastal regions, which in turn could lead to population movements, state unrest and even the collapse of states, especially in developing countries.
It is clear that the issue of water will become increasingly important in the future and urgent action is needed to prevent the loss of this resource.
According to a study by Unicef from 2012, 1.42 billion people worldwide live in areas with high overall water insecurity. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are particularly affected. Water scarcity will continue to spread worldwide and in the future will also occur where the resource is currently abundant, such as in Central Africa.
Water could pose a greater threat to national security and economic prosperity than oil and terrorism. For this reason, we as a society need to raise our awareness of water consumption and change our behaviour.
Water is the oil of the 21st century. (Alexander Frech, CEO of Amiblu)
Modern technology for outdated systems
Digitisation of wastewater systems is a concept that deals with the use of technology to monitor and manage wastewater systems. There are many ways in which the digitisation of wastewater systems can help to combat obsolescence. For example, monitoring wastewater systems with sensors can help to detect and fix leaks in time.
“Virtual water” for an individual water awareness
One way to do this is through the concept of “virtual water”. Products could be labelled to indicate the consumption of virtual water in their production and transport.
The concept of latent water, already developed in the 1990s by the British scientist Tony Allen at King’s College London, could play an important role here.
If we are aware of how much virtual water is contained in a product, we can opt for products that contain less virtual water. This can help reduce our water consumption and conserve our water resources.
Despite the challenges, there is hope: if we raise our awareness of water consumption, rely on modern technologies and use the concepts such as “virtual water”, we can prevent the war for water and create a sustainable future.