Resolving the water crisis is as essential to the world as reaching net zero carbon emissions and reducing the impact of climate change.
This is according to the British Standards Institute (BSI) together with Waterwise, which released a report to mark World Water Week (August 20th to 24th).
The study, which included analysis on the water shortage difficulties countries around the world experience, revealed the urgency of transitioning to circular water systems.
In fact, it included it was just as important as the global campaign to achieve net zero, which most nations are striving to accomplish.
What is the scale of water challenges?
To fully appreciate the importance of solving the problem of water scarcity, it is necessary to understand the extent of the challenges many nations face.
Annual water use across the world has increased by 3,500 billion cubic metres over the last 100 years. At the same time, just 0.5 per cent of water on earth is freshwater.
According to the United Nations, two billion people are unable to access safe drinking water, and half the global population face severe water shortages at some point in the year.
What’s more, as water in glaciers and snow are melting, one-sixth of the world who live in major mountain ranges will find it harder to access freshwater.
Water-related repercussions of climate change, such as flooding and rising sea levels, also mean there is less freshwater for humans, as the quality is dramatically impacted.
As the water becomes more polluted due to sediments, pathogens, pesticides, and salinization of groundwater, it is less safe to drink, wash or prepare food with.
What can be done about the water crisis?
Slowing down the effect of climate change is one step to preventing a global water crisis.
For instance, by limiting global warming to 1.5C as opposed to 2C, the IPCC thinks this will halve the population that is currently expected to be hit by water scarcity.
UNEP also believes implementing certain agricultural systems, such as using drip irrigation, and creating wetlands will help. The former can reduce demand on freshwater supplies, while the latter helps to absorb excess water and provide a good place for water storage.
The BSI, however, thinks the best solution is to adopt a circular economy mindset.
Martin Townsend, director for BSI Centre of Excellence for Sustainability, said: “Water is one [of] our most fundamental, precious and undervalued resources.”
He noted that it keeps people healthy and hydrated, provides food supplies, contributes to economic growth, and keeps nature thriving.
“But it is becoming increasingly clear that it is not sustainable for demand for water to continue to rise without action to ensure we are using it wisely and managing it effectively,” Mr Townsend commented.
Organisations can increase water circularity by improving collaboration between governments, regulators, those in the water industry and customers themselves.
What does the BSI recommend?
The BSI and Waterwise report sets out a list of recommendations it believes can help resolve the water crisis.
- Acknowledging the extent of the waste water problem
It believes utility companies should take more responsibility for their waste water challenges by reducing network leakage.
- Make it easier for consumers to make sustainable choices
Many customers want to make water-saving choices, but are not aware which product is more sustainable or what water company has a greener reputation. Therefore, the report calls for more transparency for consumers, making it easier for them to make environmentally-friendly decisions.
- Use more smart meters and technology
It acknowledges that smart meters and other modern technology have the potential to save a considerable amount of water. However, they need to be promoted, and rolled out, more to encourage better use of them.
- Promote water saving
Although most people know the importance of saving electricity, they are less aware of the value of saving water.
Therefore, there need to be more campaigns explaining why people and businesses should reduce water waste and how they can do this.
- Water recycling
Water recycling and reuse should become more commonplace, whether through rainwater harvesting or reusing water within buildings.
- Work together
The BSI and Waterwise think water regulators, industry players and government officials working together will have a big impact on global water challenges.
How World Water Week aims to progress change
This year’s World Water Week’s theme was Seeds of Change: Innovative Solutions for a Water-Wise World.
There were six trends that particularly made an impact at the event, which could be key to driving solutions to the global water crisis.
These included the importance of coming up with ways to make transformations, instead of simply saying what the problems are.
Although many people think ‘innovative solutions’ means technology, World Water Week events showed they also include governance, values, culture, and finance. This could open people’s eyes to different ways of resolving the problem.
The role of indigenous people in protecting water sources was also discussed, with 20 different groups present at the conference to tell attendees about their experiences.
World Water Week also focused on new approaches to water governance, including the benefit of changing incentives.
Having a source-to-sea approach was also emphasised as important, as all water resources are essentially connected with one another.
Finally, it was decided that water-related events, such as World Water Week, are essential for encouraging international collaboration, detailing different processes that occur within each country, and looking at the progress nations are making.
It follows the UN 2023 Water Conference, which took place in March in New York. During this event, 6,500 participants came together to discuss different nations’ sustainable goals.
More than 700 attendees signed the Water Action Agenda, which was introduced at the conference, committing to protect water resources around the world.
Chief strategy and transformation officer at BSI Jonathan Chocqueel-Mangan said: “We understand that ensuring a water-secure future could be as big an opportunity as reducing carbon emissions.”
Therefore, businesses and individuals need to make reducing water wastage and improving water recycling as much a priority as moving towards renewable energy sources and limiting plastic usage.