Solutions for water scarcity

 By Criselda Diala-McBride

Renewable energy has the potential to enhance the water supply chain, especially for more than one billion people living in areas where water is scarce. A Dubai-based competition aims to encourage the world’s best minds to come up with an economically viable solution to a pressing global concern…

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Water is vital to human life and yet across the world, more than 780 million people lack access to safe drinking water, according to the UAE Water Aid Foundation (Suqia), a Dubai-based non-profit organization overseen by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives. While nearly three-fourths of planet Earth is covered in water, only 3.5 percent is fresh. Even then, a measly portion of the world’s freshwater resource is accessible, since a majority of it (around 69 percent) is trapped in glaciers and polar ice caps.

In its 2016 Global Risk Report, the World Economic Forum ranked water crises as the top among five pressing concerns the world will face over the next decade. Indeed, water scarcity is a growing problem worldwide. And with agriculture being the dominant industry in terms of water use, water shortage also poses a considerable threat to global food security.

To help solve this issue, Suqia launched a $1-million Global Water Award. The competition seeks to encourage researchers, innovators and institutions from across the globe to find a sustainable and affordable solution to water scarcity using solar power.

Where did the earth's water come from...?

As of October 2016, the award has received 137 applications, attracting interest from countries such as Bahrain, Brazil, Egypt, France, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, the UAE, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Applications will be judged based on technology, design, environmental impact, creativity, innovation, health and safety, and sustainability. According to Mohammed Abdulkareem Al Shamsi, acting executive director of Suqia, winners will be announced by the first quarter of 2017.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has underscored that water use is “inextricably linked to energy supply,” as energy is required for every step of the water supply chain – from extracting at the source and pumping, to treating the water and distributing it to consumers. That said, renewable energy can play a significant role in enhancing and securing water supply.

“Solar-based pumping solutions offer a cost-effective alternative to pump sets that run on grid electricity or diesel,” IRENA reported. “The large-scale deployment of solar pumps can bring multiple benefits including expansion of water services to under-served communities and unirrigated lands, while reducing dependence on grid electricity or fossil fuel supply.”

Top 5 global risks in terms of impact (Source: World Economic Forum)

Almost a fifth of the world’s population, or 1.2 billion people, live in areas where water is scarce, as per estimates by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. And given that “another 1.6 billion people, or almost one-quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage” due to the lack of infrastructure needed to draw water from sources, the need to address water risks is now more urgent than ever.

Emerging solutions from the Global Water Award will not only be used to address the increasing water concern in the UAE — which relies on desalination plants for more than 90 percent of its water supply. The solutions are also expected to be applied on a larger, international scale. Through the award, the UAE hopes renewable energy can lead to an economically viable solution to satisfy the world’s insatiable thirst.

about the author
Criselda Diala-McBride
Dubai-based journalist with 20 years of experience writing and editing finance, aviation, tourism, retail, technology, property and oil and gas articles for a range of print and online publications.