Since 2003 the United Nations has periodically issued World Water Development Reports (https://www.unwater.org/publications/un-world-water-development-report). The most recent report predicts that by 2050 around 5 billion people could be living in areas of water scarcity. The conclusions and predictions are frightening. “Water and climate change are inextricably linked. Climate change affects the world’s water in complex ways. From unpredictable rainfall patterns to shrinking ice sheets, rising sea levels, floods and droughts – most impacts of climate change come down to water.” What is clear from the series of UN reports and those of other scientists who study global water patterns is that there is a current and even greater looming water crisis that will become a defining feature of the future.
Just some of the current water scarcity facts drawn from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):
- about two billion people worldwide don’t have access to safe drinking water today and roughly half of the world’s population is experiencing severe water scarcity for at least part of the year. These numbers are expected to increase, exacerbated by climate change and population growth.
- Only 0.5 per cent of water on Earth is useable and available freshwater – and climate change is dangerously affecting that supply. Over the past twenty years, terrestrial water storage – including soil moisture, snow and ice – has dropped at a rate of 1 cm per year, with major ramifications for water security
- Climate change, population growth and increasing water scarcity will put pressure on the food supply. Most of the freshwater used, about 70 per cent on average, is used for agriculture (it currently takes between 2000 and 5000 liters of water to produce a person’s daily food)
- Sea-level rise is projected to extend salinization of groundwater, decreasing freshwater availability for humans and ecosystems in coastal areas.
I could continue at length with these facts, but what is clear is that water scarcity and quality are among the most critical challenges we will face in the 21st Century. The question is what can we do to mitigate the growing crisis? The answer or answers to this range from the systemically complex global response to climate change to national and local responses of access to water and efficiency of its use.
At the global level, one way to understand climate change is that it disrupts hydrological cycles.
Global warming causes more moisture to be taken up into the atmosphere and this in turn changes weather patterns around the globe. These changes might be anything from the increase in hundred-year storms that we have experienced over the last decade to droughts and desertification. The crisis which looms in the background of the climate crisis is the level of complexity which is such that the majority of people feel helpless to do anything about it. The other aspect of this is that while some people in the world are directly and dramatically impacted by climate change, most of us are not. Thus, the climate “crisis” does not feel like a crisis and as a consequence we do little in the way of responding to the seriousness of it.
There is a fundamental question we can each ask of of ourselves: What are we actually doing in response to the climate crisis?
Recycling is the most common response and that only when it is made easy. But if there really is a climate crisis that represents an existential threat to the world, shouldn’t we be responding in kind? If you are told you have a medical crisis, you don’t think, “I will wait a few decades before I do anything about it.” The same with a financial crisis or other crises that more directly impact us personally. But it is what we seem to be doing with the climate crisis. Either we do not feel the impact on a daily basis or it is so systemically complex that we feel helpless. In either case, we, individually, do very little in response to this looming crisis.
We need to move beyond the macro level and understand that there are things each us can and must do be part of the solution. Such things as: be more efficient in our energy use, support renewables, support local food production, and be more intentional about how we deploy and use water.
The Soler Solutions response to the water scarcity crisis:
Soler Solutions’ response at this micro level is to use solar power to provide greater access to water and by using techniques such as drip irrigation, to exponentially increase the efficiency of water use.
Soler Solutions is a social enterprise company. By that, we mean that we are a for-profit company that also has an environmental and social mission. Our mission is what is often called the triple bottom line: profitable, environmentally sustainable and socially responsible.
The environmental dimension is the use of solar power to access and move water and to promote drip irrigation to use water more efficiently. The social dimension is that our ultimate goal is find ways to help subsistence farmers and others in the developing world to have greater access to water, which in turn helps address poverty, health and basic quality of life. You can view one of our most recent case studies supporting challenges of farming in a predominantly arid region – Navajoland.
This approach, which seeks to address both environmental issues and poverty, goes back to the Earth Summit held in 1982 and is the focus of what we now call sustainable development. The issue was and is that we were addressing the environment and poverty as two separate problems, when in fact they are one systemic issue that cannot be separated. Soler Solutions works to address the issues of the environmental sustainability and poverty by using solar powered water movement systems to help farmers who have typically one growing season based upon their rainy season and give them multiple growing seasons by providing year-round access to water. Rather than the farmer having to wait for the water to come to them in the form of rain, we help bring the water to them in a way that is also affordable when compared to diesel pumps or other fossil fuel based systems. By using drip irrigation technology, they would also use 50%-60% less water than with flood or spray irrigation. This increases the potential for greater profit for the farmer, thus, improving the quality of life while protecting the environment.
A secondary impact of both of these is that it helps stem the current global trend of rural populations being forced to move into the slums around major cities in their countries – places like the Favelas around Rio or the 20+ million who live in the slums around Mexico City. Currently over a billion people live in these squalid and hopeless situations, with the predictions being that by 2050 this might explode to 3 billion. Access to water can play a critical role in helping keep farmers on their land by increasing their profitability and quality of life.
What is clear is that how we deal with the growing water crisis is one of the, if not THE, most important issues of the future. Our hope is to play a small but significant role in helping to address this crisis.
– Written by James Buchanan.