Water Security and EntrepreneurshipBy Enrique Rodríguez Aréchiga | Thu, 05/13/2021 - 09:33
There is nothing more refreshing than drinking a glass of fresh water on a sunny day.
Water is the world’s most precious resource. It is the provider of all life, and the source of hope for millions of farmers who plant crops and raise cattle to feed humanity.
On May 3, Indigenous Peoples in Mexico used to perform rituals at water holes and in caves, praying for the rains to start, knowing that water is sacred. They understood the relationship between the oceans, the mountains, the glaciers, the rivers and the water holes. The Earth has incredible water cycles.
In 2010, the UN recognized water and sanitation as a human right and recognized that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of a person’s life. The right to water is understood as access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use.
The UN included water and sanitation as its sixth Sustainable Development Goal, including the following specific targets:
6.1 By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
6.2 By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
6.3 By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping, and minimizing the release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater, and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.
6.4 By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.
6.5 By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate.
6.6 By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers, and lakes.
6.a By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programs, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling, and reuse technologies.
6.b Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.”
In the case of Mexico, the current situation is alarming. CONAGUA, which is the National Water Commission, confirmed in April, that 84 percent of the country is suffering high and extreme levels of drought. The rainy season last year decreased 3 percent compared to 2019, and the water demanded by households increased due to the pandemic sanitation measures, so most of the country is living through a significant water crisis.
The agricultural and livestock sectors are suffering as a result of the drought, especially in the north of the country. Thousands of heads of cattle are at risk of dying while waiting for the rains of June. The Cuitzeo Lake, the second-largest in the country, is at 30 percent of its capacity and it may dry out completely this year. Last March, scientists at UNAM University ascended to the top of the Iztaccíhuatl volcano to commemorate the extinction of the Ayoloco glacier that disappeared in 2018. The Cutzamala System, which supplies 25 percent of Mexico City’s demand, is in a critical stage. Its seven dams are below 45 percent of their capacity, so the system is at risk of collapsing if it doesn’t have the minimum volume for which it was designed.
The scarcity of safe water is a multidimensional problem that depends on governmental politics and investments, the private sector’s contributions and innovations, and citizens’ consciousness and participation. On the innovation side, where social entrepreneurs and environmental businesses can make a difference, we find some interesting options in each step of the water cycle:
Lluvia Sólida is a product used in agriculture that saves water for long periods and assures that crops get the water when they need it, even on dry days.
Hidrocreto is a permeable concrete that allows water to filter to the ground and recharge the aquifers of the cities.
Museo del Agua, located in Tehuacan, Puebla, has been working on reforestation and the construction of micro dams and ditches to recharge the aquifers and restore the desert lands of the region. It also is involved in rainwater harvesting and sustainable agriculture.
The Great Green Wall is an African movement that aims to recover the region under the Sahara Desert by reforesting endemic trees and plants and fertilizing the soil, restoring water sources, creating jobs and transforming the lives of millions of people. The restoration of green areas fights desertification and contributes to the creation of clouds and rain.
Water Extraction and Treatment
Even though 71 percent of the planet's surface is water, only 2.5 percent is considered freshwater. The main sources of freshwater are aquifers, rivers, lakes, lagoons, atmosphere, and glaciers. The natural distribution of freshwater sources is related to geography, which is why many regions of the planet are deserts with little access to water.
Countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Israel had to develop a desalination process to obtain freshwater from the saltwater sea. The world’s biggest desalination plant, Ras Al Khair, located in Saudi Arabia, can produce 1,036,000 m3/day of drinking water.
Isla Urbana is a Mexican NGO that installs rainwater-harvesting systems in areas of Mexico City where the water service does not supply regularly. It created a low-cost system that can be installed in any house or building to transform rainwater into drinking water through physical and chemical processes.
Many cities and houses around the world have old and spoiled water systems, so even when the water is cleaned through water treatment plants, the water does not necessarily arrive clean to each household tap. In Mexico City, 35 percent of drinking water is lost because of leaks throughout the city´s hydraulic network.
Tubepol is an engineering company specialized in the maintenance and rehabilitation of water pipes with no need for excavation, which has greater costs and inconveniences for cities.
The use and consumption of drinking water cannot continue at today’s pace; it must be regulated by the local governments by reducing subsidies, increasing the cost of the service, and rationing the resource in all regions and cities. People’s habits must change by changing the hours allowed for watering gardens and parks, limiting car washing, installing water-saving showers and toilets, harvesting rainwater, and installing water treatment plants in buildings and new houses.
In Mexico City, neighborhoods like Ecatepec, Iztapalapa or Tlahuac have been dealing with “Day Zero” for the last five years or more. People struggle to survive with less than 30 liters of water a day, local mafias are reselling water and confrontations due to water scarcity are more frequent. In contrast, the consumption in regions like Miguel Hidalgo or Cuajimalpa can rise up to 500 liters per person a day.
Cántaro Azul is an NGO whose mission is to contribute to water access and sanitation through sustainable practices with a communitarian perspective. They have education programs in rural communities in Chiapas and communitarian projects to ensure that the human rights to water: availability, accessibility, quality and affordability, are achieved.
Hydroloop is a system that recirculates cold water and uses a red light to indicate when it is hot enough to have a shower. The system can be installed quite easily in every bathroom and helps to save thousands of liters of drinking water.
The last stage of the water cycle is when water is discarded into the sewer system. This stage is when black water with human waste and gray water from showers or laundries normally get mixed, losing the opportunity to treat it differently and reuse it. Many cities around the world lack treatment plants and the consequences are seen in contaminated rivers that transport fecal matter, bacteria and hazardous materials that lead to serious illnesses.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been financing and promoting innovations to create a new toilet design that does not require the use of water. At the moment, they are testing an affordable toilet in South Africa in a city where drinking water is extremely scarce. The world is hoping that this can be a real solution to achieve adequate sanitation.
Water is a precious gift. It is sacred, it is the source of life, it is a river of vitality, it is an oasis of hope. I want my children and my grandchildren to live in a place where they can enjoy the majesty of nature, with the freshness of a breeze from a waterfall. I want to get old and still enjoy a relaxing hot bath on a winter’s day.
In this text, I shared some interesting examples of innovations but I encourage you to comment here regarding any other solution that you know of and find interesting to share with us. As we know, water and sanitation issues require the sum of many solutions in different stages.
We, the entrepreneurs, need to make a change now if we want to pursue a viable future for humanity. Entrepreneurs can make a difference by creating solutions that contribute to the world’s goal: Safe water for us and those who come after us.
Plant a tree, harvest rainwater, fix leaking pipes, take short showers, demand water treatment plants and fight for water justice!