Water Scarcity Challenges

In the subdomains thread we discussed Water Scarcity and @crointel (big thank you!) got us started with a list of several principal manifestations of the water crisis:

  1. Food security in the Middle East and North Africa Region
  2. Inadequate access to safe drinking water for about 885 million people
  3. Inadequate access to sanitation for 2.5 billion people, which often leads to water pollution
  4. Groundwater overdrafting (excessive use) leading to diminished agricultural yields
  5. Overuse and pollution of water resources harming biodiversity
  6. Regional conflicts over scarce water resources sometimes resulting in warfare

Before we explore potential breakthroughs, what challenges prevent us from realizing a future where water is an abundant resource. Do you agree with the initial list? What else would you add? What context is needed to understand the complexity of the water scarcity challenge?

Hi @gdaigger, @Chicno, @delia, @Earthphoenix, @nanditabthakur11, @ssinharay6, @greenly, @OctopusGarden, @AquaDoc - Would love to hear your thoughts on challenges preventing us from realizing a future where water is an abundant resource.

There are many challenges, but my top three would be education, transparent technology performance validation, and “useful” standards. The majority of the world’s population is ignorant about water and take water management for granted until it is no longer available or water resources and/or the environment is found to be at risk. Educational resources appropriate to grade and high school, as well and general knowledge resources could help change that. For example, most people connected to a municipal sewer system don’t think twice about disposing of any liquid or solid waste they can flush down a toilet - believing that it will be taken care of by the government. The internet is full of marketing and promotion information on technology performance that makes it difficult to make informed analysis towards developing sustainable water and wastewater treatment solutions for communities. Finally, international treatment and water management standards are driven by private sector and international business interests with limited meaningful expert technical contributions.

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@TerryMulligan -
I agree with @AquaDoc about the importance of education, but perhaps with a twist: convincing people the geo-engineering can be highly beneficial as a way to solve environmental issues.

Specifically, geo-engineering may provide a powerful solution to water scarcity. Greening the Sahara Desert, for example, may provide water to millions and millions of people with very little maintenance cost.

I know it sounds like a far-fetched idea, but there may be something to it. The Suez Canal has shown us we can excavate through an entire continent (albeit a thin section of it) to serve humankind. It’s possible to do the same to achieve water security.

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(IMHO, Sorry again for repeat) The lack of fresh water is a contrived problem! Overhead, the clouds contain 11 times more water than the runoff of all the rivers of the planet, and this water can be obtained at a ridiculous price of the order of a cent per m3 using the AirHES technology practically anywhere on the planet.

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The complexity and costs involved in harvesting water from fog and water vapour should not be trivialized by stating that the resistance to applying such technology is “contrived” and that it “costs about a cent per m3”. However, a challenge that would result in coalescing research in this field to establish a commercial system to serve at a community scale could be a worthy topic. There is an extensive body of research that has been published on the subject. Here’s a link to a pretty good overview of the issues and the direction research has been going.


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You can find all feasibility story, technology, and calculations on my site. Water and HydroPower from Clouds is a new way that is not discussed in your link. Potentially it is the second (after Sun) source of renewable power (~800TW) and the first source of fresh water (~11 times more than all rivers), and also global solution for climate problem. Formally it is close to fog harvesting, but uses the clouds that are distributed worldwide globally (~67% by NASA) rather than locally like fogs.

Hi @apramanik, @willsarni, @bramberkelmans, @afisherinwater, @AmandaWatermanBieger, @ccapuco, @HealthyWater - Curious to know your thoughts on the key challenges preventing us from realizing a future where water is an abundant resource? Do you agree with the challenges mentioned so far in the discussion? Are we missing anything?

Hi @DavidHertz and @lauradosshertz,
As the water abundance XPRIZE winner, we would love to have yours view on this topic. Are we missing any challenge?

Shashi. In other forums you have asked contributors to discuss social, political, environmental, and economic aspects of the challenges as well as technical. One of the epiphanies I had a about ten years ago is that water/wastewater technology development typically does not factor in anthropological considerations. For example, I visited a Maori community in New Zealand that had a state-of-the-art fully automated wastewater facility producing high quality tertiary treated effluent. Located on the coastline I noticed they did not discharge the treated water to an ocean outfall but, instead, were discharging the water to ground. When I asked why, I was told that their cultural practice was to have wastewater blessed by Papatūānuku or the land - representing a mother earth figure. The concept of passing treated wastewater through the soil or wetlands is now understood to be a robust method of natural treatment and attenuation and degradation of the many chemicals that we discard to sewer or that pass through our bodies and can accumulate or otherwise impact the ecosystems in the receiving environment. As another example is the Australian experience for the City of Gold Coast. After many years of drought, that community elected to increase wastewater treatment to achieve an internationally accepted water reclamation and reuse standard, and distribute the reclaimed water for non-potable use within the community. When the drought ended people stopped using the reclaimed water and switched to only using potable water, presumably because of health concerns related to the psychological “yuck factor” associated with the reuse of wastewater or because of a lack of trust in the utility service to maintain water quality. As a result of the decreased non-potable water use, the water in the distribution system degraded to a point that the government was considering abandoning the reclaimed water treatment and distribution system. Fortunately, that was not done and the community continues to benefit from the reclaimed water system due to increased public communication about the benefits and safety of the system and aided by the fact the potable water use rate is about double the charge for non-potable water.


Thank you sharing these case studies. Goods points to consider when coming up with breakthroughs for these challenges.