Introducing the Water and Waste Layer
Naja Bertolt Jensen @ Unsplash
Currently, eight major rivers from around the world are running dry due to the overuse of natural resources by the industrial and agricultural sectors in conjunction with urban centers requiring a steadily increasing supply of safe and reliable drinking water. Even with the growing scarcity of blue gold, 80 percent of the world’s wastewater is still improperly discarded —mostly untreated— back into the environment. Amid this alarming scenario, the climate crisis poses additional challenges in being able to sustain and preserve the future of water sources, prompting strategies to cope with water overuse, pollution, changes in availability, and water mismanagement. The real water crisis of the 21st century is much more closely aligned with resource management than an actual emergency due to scarcity and stress.
Sustainability must encompass a global change. Both worldwide industries and the general public must increase their awareness regarding the issues and develop new, more sustainable habits and practices; the general mindset needs to accept the fact that water has a limited capacity. The culture of mass-consumption has permeated society over the last century through the linear economy. It has become nearly impossible to dissociate the water crisis from waste overproduction and poor management as microplastics are already referred to as a ubiquitous pollutant and have found their way into our seafood and water supplies. Waste seems to be invisible to consumers and industries, even though the consequences produced by its mismanagement affects the whole environment. It is estimated that by 2050, we could be producing 3.4 billion tons of waste each year, up 70% over current waste production. This is far from an isolated problem; in low-income countries 90% of all waste is mismanaged, thus increasing emissions and disaster risks while damaging public health.
These facts and observations draw attention to the urgent importance of water security and the need to transition to a global circular economy. It is paramount to rethink waste and adopt not only sustainable but also regenerative behaviors and attitudes to complement the needs of our planet. Confronting the linear status-quo is not an easy task; the modus operandi of consumers has been wholly conditioned by industries that seek infinite growth while nations measure their success through production, and mass media encourages exacerbated behavior. Our society must consider the inherent value of aquatic ecosystems and hydric resources as part of our economic, political, and social agendas. A predictive capacity embedded with advanced monitoring programs and a suitable system of water governance designed to promote opportunities for regional and sustainable development is critical to encourage water availability for the growing global demand. A decentralized management system complete with integrated management programs to provide alternatives for access and distribution must be implanted to provide individual users and both the public and private sectors with sufficient access opportunities.
By reevaluating the role of the ecosystem and the depletion of resources, industries can partner with the environment while keeping in mind the reduce-reuse-recycle triad. This progressive philosophy is met with enormous backlash and resistance from conservative, obstinate, and well-established industries and policies. For instance, the plastics industry has spent decades and gone to great lengths to blame the waste problem on consumers, lobbying to maintain the elevated, lucrative production of fossil fuel-based plastics while financing pro-recycling campaigns. On that note, current agricultural practices alone account for 70% of global freshwater use and by 2030 humanity's annual global water requirements are projected to surpass current sustainable supplies by 40%.
While these examples illustrate patterns regarding how economic systems make use of waterbodies, to properly tackle environmental action, policymakers must employ forward-thinking countermeasures to successfully approach communities with tangible solutions to combat drought and contamination emergencies. In order to be able to incorporate strategic methods to shift public attitudes and behaviors, a profound understanding of the role of the current global political scenario is paramount to explore alternative resolutions to perceptions regarding water. The burden of consequential water scarcity caused by the aggravation of the climate crisis falls mostly on developing nations and impacts mainly the most vulnerable populations. The climate breakdown is aggravating inequality beyond the reach of political forces that gain power across the world. In that regard, society needs to consider that “global cooperation is the necessary first step to successfully face our challenges as a species”.
For now and the future, scalability, accessibility, and decentralization are some of the critical factors in the strategy to improve water quality and security in cities. With increasing water scarcity and water pollution garnering extensive global attention, there is a clear, tangible need to build support for water issues across a number of constituents. Changing human behavior is necessary to avoid further crises, especially those which humans are still unable to predict. The formation of water and waste-positive attitudes must confront the consequences of the effects of global changes in water resources, starting with improved governance at the watershed level. Developing technologies for monitoring and management while expanding community participation are pivotal in leading the sharing of technological processes designed to enhance and amend the current social and political infrastructure.
The challenges and possible solutions explored throughout this project are meant not only to inspire but also to provide and share critical knowledge and tools for the present and future of water resource security, policies, and sanitation. GIZ, together with Envisioning, jointly developed the present project, which analytically assess technology applications according to NASA’s Technology Readiness Level (TRL), from 1 (the lowest level of technology maturation) to 9 (technology is already being fixed and incorporated into new systems), and evaluated following the 17 parameters of Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. In addition, we have created several stories that disclose in depth the potential and role of emerging technologies involved in the development of business models related to the water and waste management sector.
You are now invited to navigate among manifold solutions proposing innovative pathways towards a more sustainable future.