On the Brink: Providing Drinking Water and Sanitation for Our Future Cities
Pawinee @ stock.adobe.com
Day Zero made headlines across the globe in 2018 — Cape Town’s countdown to the day they would run out of water. Unfortunately, Cape Town is not the only city to experience such an alarming situation: São Paulo, Cairo, and Bangalore also made it onto the growing list of urban centers likely to run out of drinking water. Urban population growth and constant migration into cities contribute to the already massive concentration of humans in these areas and consolidates its growth tendency. More than 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas and 2019 predictions state that by 2045, it will increase by 50%, ballooning to six billion. This rapid growth pressures governments to take short-term action, resulting in poorly distributed territorial occupation, over-utilization of water resources, destruction of previously green preserved areas, and a wanton lack of consideration for long-term results.
Previous regulations regarding water management, civil construction protocols, material selection, and others, deeply affected and still affects both the population and public servants. 25% of the world's population live in countries where levels of baseline water stress are considered extremely high. This extensive alteration of natural cycles, especially natural water replenishment, is also impacting social-demographic distributions, as the climate crisis is deeply engrained in the current migration crisis. By 2050, there will be an estimated 143 million climate change-driven migrants, mostly from Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia. Intermittent or selective distribution of safe, quality water and the inability to maintain essential sanitation services already affect urban environments with some observed consequences.
Many people in underdeveloped or developing countries live at risk, meaning the climate crisis has the most significant effect on the poor, who are also the ones that need the most attention in the first place. On that note, it is absolutely vital to continue developing solutions like alternative water sources and decentralized water treatments that are rethinking sanitation systems.
Additionally, with the massive volume of water flow in large cities, sensors could provide significant insights into water use, recording relevant data and knowledge regarding communities and optimizing water management. Technologies like Automated UVC-Sterilization Device and Integrated Water Management Platforms can help control contamination and leaks, both big problems in water security for urban areas. Decentralization is also a possible and feasible solution for such urban agglomerations, giving communities and businesses the power to autonomously recycle and manage their own water. Solutions such as Cellvation®, Diffused Aeration Process, and Plasma-based Water Purification, potential urban tools that enable the treatment of water at the point of use by decentralized communities, businesses, or buildings.
However, the process of decentralizing complex water management systems represents an intricate adaptive operation that involves a combination of two main areas. First, a concerted effort is necessary to discover and develop improved methods of managing natural resource limitations. Secondly, society needs support from political endeavors that can scale back existing structures and open up negotiations and renegotiations of the current unequal power hierarchy related to the (mis)management of water. All in all, this means that the prevailing top-down decentralized reforms have not done enough to address the issues and empower actors to participate in the process to ensure the efficient use of resources and to regard the impoverished as a crucial constraint for all future technological developments. If society is able to responsibly tackle these issues, demand will follow the strengthening of statutory public organizations to regulate water distribution, incentivizing agents to actively participate and promote diversified forums to simplify informed water-based decisions for a more sustainable future.
The growth of both present-day and future urban centers adds a substantial layer of complexity for water and sanitation security applications. Tangible, feasible solutions that adhere to the requirements mentioned above will bring intelligence, decentralization, and scalability as the pillars necessary to overcome the challenges of urbanization and encourage more responsible behavior in a world on the brink of uncontrollable scarcity.