Towards a Circular Water Sector

Towards a Circular Water Sector

Water Scarcity Around the Globe: Reasons, Issues and Consequences

Today, water scarcity – the limited access to much needed water – affects four billion people globally at least one month per year. While this number is alarming, by 2025, half of the world’s population could be living in areas affected by water scarcity, and by 2030, some 700 million people made refugees due to the phenomenon. The reasons for water scarcity are as diverse as its consequences. Collapsed infrastructure and distribution systems, contamination, conflict, and poor management of water resources by governments tie into factors related to the climate crisis. Around 74 % of natural disasters between 2001 and 2018 were water-related, and expected to expand in the face of climate change. As dry seasons get longer each year, water scarcity also impacts industries like agriculture, which endangers food production. Climate change thus leads to increasing competition for water, and with that, conflicts around the scarce resource.

In many areas across the globe, water scarcity already influences access to safe drinking water and hygiene. Clean water is missing in homes, schools, and the health care sector. Contaminated water places a huge risk on communities, as it can lead to the spread of diseases such as cholera. Water scarcity disproportionately affects women and children. They are often responsible for water collection and walk huge distances to do so. For many girls, hard-to-access water means less time spent at school, and thus negatively affects their attendance and performance. Moreover, the water collection places a physical burden on them, and can expose them to exploitation and security risks.

Water Scarcity in Jordan

Places at risk of or already experiencing water scarcity are mostly located in the Middle East and Africa. Regions with semi-arid or arid climate are especially affected. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan have the highest water insecurity in the world. While Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have developed technologies to desalinate water, Jordan is still at high risk of increasing water scarcity. By 2030, 40 % of its groundwater is expected to be deplete.

While groundwater levels in Jordan sink yearly, the demand for water rises. Without reforms, the daily amount of accessible water per person could become half of what it is now by the end of the century. To secure access to water, Jordan could desalinate the salty water from the Red Sea, but this process requires huge amounts of energy and financial resources.

Towards a Circular Water Sector

The World Economic Forum proposes for water to become a renewable, circular sector in order to combat climate change and water scarcity. In that, its proposal connects to the model of a circular economy. A circular economy is a model of production and consumption that involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, and recycling materials, products, and resources for as long as possible. The goal of such an economy is to reduce waste to a minimum. Instead of a take-make-consume-throw away approach, a circular economy creates value out of seemingly worthless things, by using them to create something new. Each product, resource and material is kept in the economic cycle for as long as possible, including water.

Revolutionizing Water Management through New Technologies

To reuse water instead of wasting it, a circular water sector is highly dependent on innovative technologies. Instead of searching for evermore water supplies on a planet with finite resources, water needs to be integrated into a circular economy. The following steps are necessary to transform the water sector into a circular entity (Alexander & Sarni 2022):

  1. The industry must become circular and diversified. Water recycling should become a practice at home, in cities, and in industries. Innovative technologies like air moisture capture should diversify water sources. Today, technologies to extract drinking water from the atmosphere, for example, already exist and are in use.
  2. Digitalization should be used to our advantage to collect important data in relation to water through technologies such as remote sensing and artificial intelligence.
  3. The water sector must be democratized to keep every mind on the matter. Useful data must be made accessible to the public, so that it can be used for the adoption of a renewable water sector. The data should be presented in such a way that it is easy to understand.

The way towards a circular water sector requires governments, enterprises, and individuals to restructure their thinking and integrate recycling into their practices. Access to water and sanitation are basic human rights that too many people around the globe lack already. To combat this trend, the water sector must become circular, diversified, digitalized and democratized.

Dalea Awada

 

Sources

Alexander, Austin and Will Sarni. “How can the water sector become renewable and circular?”, World Economic Forum, 22 April 2022, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/04/water-sector-renewable-circular/, last access 27 April 2022.

European Parliament. “Circular economy: definition, importance and benefits”, European Parliament News, 2 Decemember 2015, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/economy/20151201STO05603/circular-economy-definition-importance-and-benefits#:~:text=The%20circular%20economy%20is%20a,reducing%20waste%20to%20a%20minimum, last access 27 April 2022.

Jauch, Matthias. “Wie sich die Wasserkrise in Jordanien zuspitzt“, Der Tagesspiegel, 7 May 2021, https://www.tagesspiegel.de/gesellschaft/panorama/eine-blaupause-des-klimawandels-wie-sich-die-wasserkrise-in-jordanien-zuspitzt/27153302.html, last access 27 April 2022.

Pasik, Maxim. “How water scarcity triggers the refugee crisis – and what tech can do to solve it”, World Economic Forum, 4 June 2019, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/06/water-scarcity-refugee-crisis-tech-solve-it/, last access 27 April 2022.

Unicef. “Water and the global climate crisis: 10 things you should know”, 18 March 2022, https://www.unicef.org/stories/water-and-climate-change-10-things-you-should-know, last access 27 April 2022.

Unicef. “Water scarcity – Addressing the growing lack of available water to meet children’s needs”, https://www.unicef.org/wash/water-scarcity#:~:text=Key%20facts,by%20as%20early%20as%202025, last access 27 April 2022.

United Nations. “Human Rights to Water and Sanitation”, UN Water, https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/human-rights/#:~:text=The%20right%20to%20water%20entitles,for%20personal%20and%20domestic%20use., last access 28 April 2022.

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