Using this blog as inspiration I have written a short paper, you can look at it here: Take action to avoid water scarcity
A serious drought experienced in Spain during the period 1991-1995 prompted the water service provider in Zaragoza to redefine its approach to water supply. The reduction of water consumption in Zaragoza was to be achieved by changing consumption patterns and through the effective use of water saving technology. The project involved government, social bodies, business and consumers.
Through four phases of implementation Zaragoza became a water-saving city:
- ‘Small steps, big solutions’, aimed at making changes on all aspects that individually and collectively affect the water-using culture in homes, public buildings, large consumers and the general public.
- ‘50 good practices’ focused at reducing water consumption of large consumers of water such as public buildings, industries, parks and gardens.
- ‘School for efficient water use’, whose objective was to extend the good practices resulting from the first two phases, and for Zaragoza to become a role model city for efficient water use.
- ‘100,000 Zaragoza commitments’, The invitation of citizens and businesses to make online public commitments to save water.
Despite a 12% increase in population, the water conservation measures employed by Zaragoza achieved a decrease in total water consumption of 27% between 1997 and 2008, this far exceeded the goal the city had. The city is now known throughout the world as a leader in the field of water conservation.
So an alternative way of addressing water scarcity is to manage consumption. Reducing leaks from distribution pipelines, dissuading wasteful use and promoting water-saving fittings and appliances are all ways in which cities can sustain growth and reduce their vulnerability to climate change without negatively impacting on environmental resources and social needs.
While researching the problem of the water crisis, I’ve started wondering why there is so little media attention and initiatives to prevent the water crisis from getting any worse than it already is. Dr Andrew Noble discusses in the following youtube clip why water and land degradation is, as he calls it, a “slumbering giant”.
Andrew Noble says that water and land degradation are under-recognized factors in the future of water and food security. The problem doesn’t stick out yet but when it does there are very severe consequences like erosion, sedimentation or loss of irrigation. In the past, humans have had the option to move to new land if degradation prevents productivity. Soon, however, we will not have the luxury of cultivating new land and water sources, as humans are quickly running out of new areas to move into. So finding ways to produce more food from the current land and water resources is necessary.
This problem can also be considered as a “wicked problem” says Andrew Noble. This means it is a multidimensional problem which isn’t solvable trough a single channel. The most difficult dimension to this problem is the need for behavioral change.
The challenges for richer and poorer countries are exactly the same because the processes of degradation are the same all over the world. But the difference is that richer countries have the ability to address these challenges while developing countries don’t. This is the reason why there are more problems visible in developing countries.
So in order to really do something about the water crisis a behavioral change is needed as well as policy changes, big investments and political will. The likelihood of this actually happening is quite unclear because the water crisis isn’t the only crisis in the world that asks for attention right now.
In a previous post I talked about the clean water crisis: the population is increasing, but the water supply is not so it will be a challenge to produce enough food. Colin Chartres, director of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), has written a book called “Out of water” about this problem and its solutions. In the following video he talks about ways to solve water scarcity and food insecurity.
It is predicted we’ll need twice as much water as we have today, to be able to feed the increased population in 2050. Agriculture, which uses 70% of today’s water supply will have to find a way to produce more food with less water. So what are the six solutions introduced by Colin Chartres?
- Better water measurement:
There is very little measurement of the water resources, so it is hard to manage water and predict what influence climate change will have.
- Reform how water resources are governed
“New models of water governance are needed that clearly define water rights, operate fair pricing policies and empower farmers in water management, while ensuring they use water sustainably” says Varga, also from IWMI.
- Agriculture needs to be seen as part of the environment
Future agriculture must be conducted in harmony with natural ecosystems, in order to do this authorities must limit the amount of sewage and pollution they allow to enter waterways.
- Revitalization of agricultural water use
Revitalizing agriculture requires the physical infrastructure created under the old governance models to be overhauled and updated, like for instance surface irrigation systems.
- Better management of urban and industrial demands for water
To help conserve supplies, farmers need to increase the ‘crop per drop’, while industry and cities must find new ways to reuse and recycle water. It is important we think about the water we use in our house, as well as in the food we consume and often waste.
- Empowerment of the poor and women in water management
Developing countries get most of the extreme events such as floods and droughts. So giving them access to new technologies that will help them as climate change accelerates is important. There needs to be special attention given to the women, who often run farms but are excluded from decision making because of community attitudes.
So do you think these goals are achievable?
Eurostat recently published a report about sustainable development in the European Union. This report is focused around ten topics like socioeconomic development, demographic changes, natural resources,… I’d like to focus on the development of renewable energy in the EU.
Electricity consumption of households has risen almost continuously since 1990. This is mainly caused by a rise in the number of households and changes in their consumption patterns. Household electricity consumption proved rather unresponsive to the economic crisis.
Renewable energy is generated from wind, solar, hydro-electric and tidal power as well as geothermal energy and biomass. The contribution of biomass is by far the largest but wind and solar energy have expanded fastest. The use of renewable energy is highest in the electricity sector, where they covered a fifth of gross power generation in 2011.
The EU has set mandatory national renewable energy targets to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources and a 10% share of energy from renewable sources in transport by 2020. More renewable energy will enable the EU to cut greenhouse emissions and make it less dependent on imported energy.
The national target for Belgium to reach by 2020, is set on 13%. But in 2012 the percentage of renewable energy in Belgium was only 6,8%, putting Belgium in the 23th spot of renewable energy percentage in the EU. So it will be hard for Belgium to reach this goal, while countries like Sweden and Bulgaria have already reached their goals for 2020.
Do you think Belgium should invest more in renewable energy?
This video (make sure to turn on the subtitles unless you speak chinese), made by Greenpeace, is part of their global Detox campaign. The goal of this campaign is to expose the direct links between global clothing brands, their suppliers and toxic water pollution around the world. In the video Greenpeace asked kids what they thought about the toxic water pollution uncovered off the coast of South Eastern China. The reaction of the children is very honest and I hope it will raise awareness to this issue.
It doesn’t matter if you support Greenpeace as an organisation or not, it is a fact that the textile industry is very polluting. In my own thesis I’m working with water that’s polluted with dyes and getting it clean again isn’t easy. So in my opinion it’s a big step in the right direction to know big names in the fashion world like Nike, Zara, Mango, H&M,… have agreed to the Greenpeace fashion manifesto. They agreed to eliminate all releases of hazardous chemicals from their supply chains and products.
A paper written by C. I. Pearce states that two percent of dyes that are produced are discharged directly in aqueous effluent, and 10% are subsequently lost during the textile coloration process . As a result, most of the wastewater produced by the textile industry is coloured. This wastewater isn’t only polluted by dyes but also contains other hazardous substances.
Does the environmental impact of fashion brands influence your decisions when shopping for clothes?
Not every house in Belgium is connected to a watertreatment facility, when the location is too remote a connection just isn’t an option. So what do they do with their wastewater? One of the options is a personal reed field, sometimes homeowners are required by the government to have one in their garden when their house is too distant for a connection. In that case there are subsidies available and lower taxes.
But also if you’re not required to have one by the government, you can have your own reed field, because you like to be green or maybe just because it is aesthetically pleasing.
Reed bed technology is based upon the cleansing power of three main elements: soil dwelling microbes, the physical and chemical properties of the soil, sand or gravel, and finally the plants themselves. Of these, the microbial flora and fauna is the most important constituent. This wastewater purification technique uses no extra artificial energy supply or other necessary substances.
The plants have three functions. Firstly, the very extensive root system creates channels for the water to pass through. Secondly, the roots introduce oxygen down into the body of soil and provide an environment where aerobic bacteria can thrive. Thirdly, the plants themselves take up a certain amount of nutrient from the waste water.
I find this a very interesting technique and would certainly consider having one later on in my life, simply because I also like the look of it. What is your opinion?