Water Scarcity

As described in Wikipedia, water scarcity, i.e. the lack of fresh water resources to meet the standard water demand, was listed in 2019 by the World Economic Forum as one of the largest global risks in terms of potential impact over the next decade. According to a projection by the United Nations, by the year 2050, there can be about 4.5 billion people affected by a water crisis.

There are 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

Though XPRIZE had a freshwater challenge before, still many problems from different aspects of this field remain to be solved.

The thread is relevant to:

Hi @DavidHertz, @lauradosshertz, @jamesmccanney - What are your thoughts on water scarcity?

Can you expand on the kind of problems that an XPRIZE would have to solve in this challenge?

The problems I can think about include:

  1. Collect water from thin air: Not sure if it had been basically solved at the previous XPRIZE challenge, or it can be further improved by other methods, such as airhes.
  2. Reservoir management: Especially cheap solutions for sediment removal and transportation, but US Bureau of Reclamation has a relevant challenge ongoing right now.
  3. Desalination: Eco-friendly and cheap solutions for desalination to provide freshwater at different scales are in demand. The direction chosen US DoE is solar desalination.
  4. Groundwater management: In many countries, groundwater overdrafting, pollution and other problems had became serious, but it is still an important water source for them. On the other hand, there is abundant but unused groundwater in Africa which may benefit a lot of people. Therefore, technical solutions for better groundwater management should be important.
  5. Rainmaking: Can rainmaking methods perform any better? Especially can rain be made in dry seasons or arid areas?
  6. Desert greening: Can a desert like Sahara become green at a certain level again? And form an ecosystem which is more rainy?

What do you think?

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I think water scarcity is the number one problem we face today. It is not, in my opinion, a technical problem, but a political problem. And the politics are complicated and nasty. Let’s consider a fairly clearcut case. The Aral Sea, actually a very large but shallow lake, in what once was the Soviet Union has essentially dried up. This is not the result of weather changes but of human stupidity. A leader in one of the countries depending on the Aral Sea insists that cotton must be grown. Cotton cultivation is water intensive. It simply is not the best cultivar for that country. But the country is famed for its cotton wares and it certainy needs cotton. The solution is to raise less water intensive crops and get the cotton it needs from elsewhere. That is not going to be cheap because cotton is expensive. And that is understandable because it needs so much water among other things.
There is an old saying in the American West I dearly love.: “Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting over.” We need to solve our problems through cooperation. Drink less whiskey, fight less over water. And if we can overcome human pride, ignorance, greed and a few other foibles I think we can have quite enough water for everyone. The Israelis have shown that. They took a land that was dry desert in the south and swampy in the north and made it green. They are so successful they actually are now trying to sell water they have too much of to other countries. What they did is not genius but attitude. We can get to that point also if we want to. The technology we need is pretty much already available. The political will is what we now need to solve the problem.

@crointel -
I think it’s a great summary. I only have a few comments -

  1. While XPRIZE did indeed have a competition meant to collect water from air, it’s not from thin air. Just a sore point for us: the air has to have a certain level of moisture in it.

  2. Decontamination is also a critical factor. Singapore, for example, has managed to decontaminate sewage water at a level that allows the citizens to drink it again (it’s called NEWater).

  3. I love suggestion number 6. Completely changing the desert ecosystem is incredibly audacious and could have major impact over so many fields.

I know there are some ideas to ‘green’ the Sahara Desert. I wonder if XPRIZE can actually accelerate movement in this direction.

(Sorry 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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Even in Sahara ~10% time there are clouds (globally for planet ~67% by NASA) - it is absolutely enough for getting fresh water by AirHES for oasis forests. They will increase the moisture in 4 times from m2 and step-by-step will convert the desert to green area. BTW, the main part of rains in desert is virga (the rains which cannot reach the ground), but AirHES technology can still forse to drop this water.

Overhead water may indeed be part of the mix. But before we put all our eggs in that one basket someone needs to explain to the public whether overhead water is always suitable or only sometimes suitable (and if the latter, then we need to know what to do to make up the difference between need and supply). As far as I am concerned, I have always believed that overhead water could be problematic in situations where pollutants such as sulfur are raining down. And sulfur is a big headache in areas where there is volcanic activity as well as in places where coal burning (one of the dirtiest of fossil fuels).is a mainstay of the energy production (such as Poland)