The threat of global warming is essentially a threat to water. Rising temperatures impact water cycles, increasing the intensity of rainfall and the severity of drought.
Data published by UNICEF reveal how closely coupled water is to natural disasters: about 74% of major natural disasters between 2001 and 2018 have resulted from floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts and other weather-related events. Matters have not improved since then. For example, in the past two years, the US recorded the most named tropical storms in one season and the most storms that made landfall. South Africa’s neighbour, Mozambique, now frequently experiences heavy tropical storms, some even reaching down the coast to reach KwaZulu-Natal.
Yet while these signs are very concerning, they also point to how we can focus on water to prepare for and mitigate climate change. The Sustainable Development Goal 6 promises “clean water and sanitation for all”, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction calls for focus on water issues, while the Paris Agreement places water in a central role to battle climate change.
“Water is a major part of preparing for climate change,” says Chetan Mistry, Strategy and Marketing Manager for Xylem Africa. “The impact of changing weather patterns ultimately affect the distribution and availability of water. Climate change is an opportunity for us to revisit how we use water and how we can improve the processes, infrastructure and attitudes that determine our relationship with water.”
Preparing for Climate Change
Better water management will help protect communities from the worst of climate change and help reduce and even reverse the phenomenon. Inefficient water distribution systems will require more power to pump water where needed. Efficient infrastructure reduces energy consumption and thus greenhouse gases. And promoting green spaces in cities such as wetlands and tree-filled parks will improve water retention while removing carbon from the atmosphere.
To encourage the relationship between water and a better climate, there are several ways different people can help:
Reduce non-revenue water: Non-revenue water erodes income through leaks, poor metering, or water theft. Modern technologies can help discover leaks, improve metering and limit unauthorised use.
Invest in water monitoring: Though we scrutinise energy bills and count every watt of usage, we are often less picky about water consumption. This creates big inefficiencies that leave money on the table for companies, individuals and municipalities. Digital technologies greatly enhance our ability to track every drop.
Educate on water use: Numerous groups, including the US Environmental Protection Agency, estimate that we waste around 100 litres of water per person every day. Educating water consumers on better practises, including water recycling, can make a huge difference.
Invest in better irrigation: Agriculture is crucial for national resilience, and less water means more expensive yet less food on our tables. But most irrigation techniques can waste as much as half the water they use. Deploying better techniques, such as drip irrigation and recycling wastewater for irrigation, are already improving water resilience in drier countries.
Deploy greener sanitation systems: Water sanitation often uses chemical agents that can contaminate local water ecosystems. A lot of water can be reclaimed by investing in greener sanitation systems such as ozone and UV light, and improving wastewater systems.
Replace inefficient pumps: Outdated pumps consume much more power than modern alternatives. Unlike new pumps with variable frequency drives, traditional pumps will run continuously regardless of flow rates or water requirements, consuming a lot of unnecessary energy.
Reclaim and revitalise natural water systems: Human efforts to manage and reuse water pale to the impacts of wetlands, aquifers, rivers and forests. If we protect, rehabilitate and recharge such systems, they will make a massive difference in both water availability and reducing temperatures.
Recycle water: Recycling water or capturing rainwater has never been easier or more effective than today. From self-made home systems reusing greywater for gardens to large-scale wastewater recycling using anaerobic and aerobic ponds to create drinking water, water recycling is one of our greatest tools to improve water resilience.
Water is life. It’s been a crucial part of the human journey since the dawn of time. Even when archaeologists track the movement of ancient humans, they lead us from water spot to water spot. Global warming threatens water, but we can fight back. By everyone doing their part to conserve water, we can turn the tide against climate change.
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