Water – The Global Challenge and Everybody’s Business:
Social & Technological Perspective
by Iqbal M Mujtaba
Thirty three percent of the world population do not have decent toilet and 11% of the world population do not have clean water close to home. Globally, about 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces. Quality water and quality life go hand in hand. The food we eat, the house we live in, the transports we use and the things we cannot do without in 24/7/365 determine our quality of life and require sustainable and steady water supplies. Exponential growth in population and improved standards of living require increasing amount of freshwater and are putting serious strain on the quantity of naturally available freshwater around us. The Ancient Mariners’ rime: “Water, water everywhere/Not a drop to drink” is in line with 97% of the planet’s water being either salty or undrinkable. By the year 2030, the global needs of water would be 6900 billion m3/day. Currently the demand for freshwater is increasing by 64 billion cubic meters a year while the world’s population is growing by roughly 80 million a year. At present, more than 20% of the world’s population live in areas of physical scarcity of water. Moreover, around 25% of the world’s population face economic water shortage where their countries lack the appropriate infrastructure to take water from the source.
As the world population grows, the heavily industrialised world we live or strive to live continues to generate vast volumes of wastewater plagued with industrial effluents, sewage, and many harmful, some carcinogenic, by-products, which are often simply disposed of in rivers and oceans. Contaminated water transmits diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio cause over half a million diarrhoeal death each year. The yuck factor, the terms such as recycled sewage and toilet-to-tap used by media in characterizing reclaimed water, give significant negative images to augment reclaimed wastewater reuse, especially for drinking and agricultural production purposes. Although farmers of many countries do not perceive any problem with the quality of the yield produced by wastewater, the social acceptability of the use of wastewater for agriculture is poor.
Global thirst will turn million into water refugees. The disputes over water will inevitably become more common, as 220 river basins globally are shared by two or more countries and scarcity of water can lead to riots. Without more effective water management systems, lack of water availability will become a problem threatening national security in many countries.
Water insecurity is not an issue that can be understood from the perspective of one discipline. Water affects everybody. Apart from the technological, scientific and engineering dimensions, there is an essential social dimension to water insecurity. Although some of the technological problems being faced regarding the water security and water management could easily be resolved in a matter of years, social and political issues regarding water management will take much longer time to resolve.
This talk will highlight some of the social and technical issues around water which is a grand challenge of the world requiring multidisciplinary approach for the solution.