Water and Climate Change: Everyone has a role to Play: Report by Rabia Nusrat

Everyone has a role to play in fighting climate change; Sustainable, Affordable and Scalable Water and Sanitation Solutions.

Climate change is destroying our only planet. We do not have a promising future on the other planets; still, we are taking Earth for granted. We need to invest in this planet, and we need to create awareness for its conservation. Earth, which has the mesmerizing potential of revitalization, should be prioritized when doing any project. Climate change and water scarcity are the two grave concerns of today and tomorrow, and both are strongly interlinked with each other.

Climate change is putting enormous stress on freshwater resources, and we are unable to manage the issue. On the other hand, measures to combat climate change demand for efficient management and use of water. If we talk about individual responsibility, then it has a lot to do with education and awareness. Awareness of the water crisis and climate change can invoke people in academia to devise and implement modern solutions to solve water and sanitation-related issues. In the era where we have learned to fly above the skies, but we are unable to solve problems on the ground.

climate change

Everybody talks about water, wastewater, and water contamination. The human body itself is composed of 60% water and needs water to rehydrate the cells and maintain the temperature of the body. Similarly, we need water for our day to day use. From washing hands to bathing and from any industrial process to cooking, everything demands water. Without water, one cannot continue living. Despite the inevitable demand for water people do not know about the sustainable use of water. 97.2 % of the water in the world is seawater and cannot be used without pricey treatment. Alone 2.8% is freshwater, from which 2.15% is in the form of glaciers and polar ice caps. Against 0.65% freshwater 0.5% is surface water and 0.3% is not economically extractable. Hence the available amount of freshwater is 0.35%.

Sustainable use of water can help us fight climate change. This might seem confusing as we have always been discussing the impact of climate change on water resources. We talked about water scarcity but did not realize that efficient management of resources would help us prevent climate change.

Water and climate change are both inextricably linked with each other. Water vapor is itself a potent greenhouse gas. According to news published in nature world news that doing a single load of laundry at elevated temperature with drying results in 7.2lb carbon footprint[1].
According to the statistics published in world bank blogs 70% of the freshwater in the world is used for irrigation purposes[2] and this demand is going to escalate in future. Instead of precious freshwater resources, wastewater can be used for irrigation purposes. The aim is to grow maximum crops by using minimum water. This wastewater, if treated by energy-intensive treatment methods, can contribute towards global warming. Hence use of wastewater for irrigation is the best way to save energy, environment, and cost. Wastewater can be treated by cheap land disposal methods and can be used for irrigation after the primary or secondary treatment depending upon the designated use.

The energy sector has its significant contribution in causing climate change. From the extraction of groundwater to its treatment and supply, every step demands energy. Now from which resource this energy is generated is another topic of debate. Energy conservation from saving water is significant. According to the research conducted in Center for Water-Energy Efficiency at the University of California, Davis, the quantity of electricity saved statewide through reducing urban water use by 25% in 2015 was roughly equivalent to all of the electricity saved by all of the energy efficiency programs from the state’s four major investor-owned energy utilities in 2015[3].

Less water use would lead to less wastewater generation. Declined wastewater generation would lead to fewer treatment and hence low environmental footprint. The problem of water has not been as grim as it is today. It is due to individual negligence and irresponsibility towards the use of resources. According to the data published by UN-Water, 80% of the world wastewater flows back into the ecosystem without any treatment(UNESCO, 2017). On the other hand, the lack of safe drinking water affects 1.8 billion people worldwide. (WHO/UNICEF 2015) As the effects of climate change have become more prevalent, water stress has been increased from the past decade.

Sustainable Development calls for restoration of water related ecosystems and investment in the development of sanitation infrastructure to inhibit the danger of water-related diseases.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 3.4 million people die each year due to water-related diseases.(WHO/UNICEF 2015)
Sustainable water resource management is a powerful tool in fighting against climate change and hence to prevent the water effects of climate change. Rainwater harvesting is the best strategy to mitigate the climate effects of water extraction, treatment, and distribution. Awareness is key to any action for a solution. Rainwater harvesting is a straightforward and most tangible solution to solve the water and energy crisis, but most of the people in the developing world are not aware of this engineered method of water storage and reuse. Creating public awareness and hence saving water at the household level is a mighty weapon against this fight.

Wetlands, also known as carbon sinks, are natural water treatment systems and serve as carbon sinks in the environment, but it has been reported that 87% of the natural wetlands have been lost[4]. In order to reduce the environmental footprint of the treatment systems, the best strategy is to shift to natural treatment systems.

Mangroves are natural defense mechanisms against flooding. Climate change causes floods due to rising sea levels. Floods destroy water and sanitation infrastructure and cause water-related diseases as floods carry sediments, sewage, and toxins with them. Water can help fight climate change. Water has great potential in this entire world to save the planet. Wetlands, which are excellent natural systems of treating wastewater, can absorb tonnes of CO2 in it and hence help in carbon dioxide sequestration.

Storing water through engineered and cost-effective ways promise us a good future when we talk about water scarcity. Stormwater management is one solution to offer when we come to solve our water crisis. Permeable pavements have much to offer for a future of water. Due to improper planning, and lack of knowledge, urban pavements are designed in such a way to create more runoff and less groundwater recharge.

Greywater accounts for up to 75% of the wastewater volume produced by a household[5], which has great potential for recycling and reuses for non-potable purposes. Installing cheaper filters to treat this water can solve the problem. Industries should have to become very environmentally responsible for reducing their water footprint. Water can cause climate change and climate change causes intermittent rain patterns that lead to the unavailability of fresh water in certain areas and more rain hence more water in the other.

According to the World Health Organization, 2.3 billion people lack essential sanitation services(WHO/UNICEF 2015). Closing all the open defecation sites and provision and awareness of sanitation services can help save the freshwater resources from contamination and ultimately can save human health. Environmental and public health awareness, building scalable water and sanitation solutions are critical towards the saving future of water, health, and climate.

Rabia is an Environmental Engineering senior at University of Engineering and Technology Lahore, Pakistan.She is an environmental activist, science communicator and a Global Ugrad Alumni. 

References:

1.  Emilton Hernest “Environmental Cost of Doing Laundry.” Nature World News.
2. Tariq Khokhar “Chart: Globally, 70% of Freshwater is Used for Agriculture” World Bank Blogs. Tariq Khokhar March 22,2017
3. California Water-Saving Drive Saved Energy, Too. (2018, January 18). Retrieved from https://energy.ucdavis.edu/california-water-saving-drive-saved-energy/
4. Nick C Davidson “How much wetland has the world lost? Long-term and recent trends in global wetland area” Marine and Freshwater Research 65(10):936-941. January 2014
5. Michael Oteng-Peprah,1,2 Mike Agbesi Acheampong,3 and Nanne K. deVries1” Greywater Characteristics, Treatment Systems, Reuse Strategies and User Perception—a Review” Water Air Soil Pollut. 2018; 229(8): 255. 2018 Jul 16

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