‘Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink’. The words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written in his poem over 200 years ago could not ring truer today.
In most developed countries, a steady supply of clean water is piped into our homes. At the end of the month a bill arrives, and given that we pay for water per cubic metre or cubic gallon, the amount of water we actually consume is virtually free. Around the world, people expect water to be provided to them via a well or pipe and at a very low cost. After air (still free in most places), water is the most essential element of our daily lives and is perceived as a basic right.
The global population is growing exponentially, from 7 billion today rising to over 9 billion by 2050; water consumption is doubling every 20 years, twice the rate of population growth; and by 2025, demand will exceed supply by 56 percent. This is intensified by climate change – 2014 was the hottest on record with severe droughts and rainfall deficits recorded on every continent.
In less than 20 years, the UN estimates that half the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas and the crisis is already unfolding. Water scarcity and shortages limit economic development, threaten political stability and exacerbate rural poverty in emerging and developing countries. Currently, over a billion people do not have access to clean, safe water, resulting in the death of nearly 4,000 children per day. In Amman, Jordan, there is running water only one in ten days and in rural areas of Saudi Arabia, water scarcity and salinity destroy agriculture. In Pakistan, waterborne diseases cause 40 percent of illnesses, preventing children from going to school, parents to miss work and resulting in burdensome healthcare bills. For other communities, their only access to water is via the weekly visit of the water truck or taking hours from their working day to visit wells. As attention focuses on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, increasing accessibility to clean water will improve health and hygiene to assist in curbing the spread of infectious diseases and reducing child mortality.
It is time to revalue the cost we attach to water and devise new approaches. What is the use of charities digging wells, only for them to run dry in a few years due to the depletion of groundwater? Water needs to be extracted from the earth in the most sustainable way.
Our planet is drenched in over 300 million trillion gallons of water, yet around 97 percent is oceanic salt water and 1.5 percent remains locked up in icecaps and glaciers. Less than 1 percent is usable by humans for drinking, sanitation, cooking and growing crops.
Water is a finite resource and desalination, the process of transforming seawater into drinking water, seems to be the most viable. Today, only 0.7% of the world’s water comes from desalination and existing technology is expensive and inefficient. The most common process is reverse osmosis whereby water forced through a membrane separates out the salts and other impurities. Some countries have adopted large-scale desalination plants though these require significant investment alongside vast amounts of energy powered by fossil fuels. In developing countries, large-scale water treatment facilities usually leave residents with a dismal lack of services. Failure stems from breakdown of communication and coordination in planning and implementation, high maintenance costs and lack of ownership leading to the degradation of existing plants.
Decentralized systems allow for more locally-focused answers and those powered by renewable energy sources are fast-growing due to environmental and socio-economic factors. Decentralized, desalinated water avoids investment in infrastructure, reduces unaccounted for water and minimises carbon emissions.
We at Desolenator are working on bringing a new solution to the market that addresses these issues, powered by solar energy. Our affordable, stand-alone, family-sized device converts seawater into 15 litres of drinking water per day. Requiring minimal consumables and maintenance, Desolenator will desalinate water at a lower cost per litre than any system at this scale available today over its 20-year lifetime.
This year, we’re planning an extensive field trial in an arid coastal hamlet in Tamil Nadu, Southern India. One hundred families will receive a Desolenator unit for their house and will report on how they enjoy the water delivered daily by the device and what problems they encounter.
To make this possible, please support our fundraising campaign and assist in giving water independence to a billion people.
William Janssen, CEO of Desolenator
Main image: Glyn Lowe at Flickr Creative Commons