- United States
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- The World Region
- South Asia
- Middle East and North Africa
- Latin America & Caribbean
- Europe and Central Asia
- East Asia and Pacific
- Communities and Human Settlements
Pakistan’s population of nearly 181 million is growing at 2% per year; this population explosion has resulted in the country meeting the international definition of water stress—water availability in Pakistan has plummeted from about 5,000 cubic meters per capita in the early 1950s to less than 1,100 m3 per capita in 2011.
This ominous, mounting water paucity impairs the lives of Pakistan’s rural women, who bear the arduous responsibility of collecting and providing water for their households. The absence of a safe water supply at or near their homes—and the resulting need to walk up to 4 km or more to get water each day—has aggravated the burden of women’s duties in many ways, making them vulnerable in terms of both their health and personal safety.
Rural women are the worst victims of water scarcity; however, in some communities, evidence indicates that women are emerging as a “herald of change.”
All climate negotiations have been based on staying below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures. Yet it looks increasingly unlikely that that will be possible. A new report, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided, suggests that there is a 40 percent chance that we will reach 4°C by 2100 even if we stick to the agreed emission reduction commitments.
What does water look like in a 4°C world?
Put simply: it's complex. Water is a complicated system and one of the major impacts of climate change is the effect on the hydrological (water) cycle. These impacts will coincide with an unprecedented increase in demand for water because of population and economic growth.
They both hold the potential to help meet the needs of the poor and end poverty. New ideas and innovative solutions are critical to address the 2.5 billion people who lack access to proper sanitation. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills more than 4,000 children a day and a lack of sanitation results in billions of dollars in economic losses to developing countries. Now that more people have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet or latrine, it’s time to leverage technology to help reach development goals.
“Superstorm” Sandy passed through the northeast United States earlier this week. High winds and heavy rains caused considerable damage, particularly in New Jersey and New York. High winds damaged buildings and knocked down trees and branches. Falling trees and branches caused more damage, including falling on electrical and telephone wires, breaking them and causing widespread power outages. Further, the winds north of the storm’s center pushed already high tides into repeated surges, some as much as 4.5 m (over 13 feet) above normal high tide. Coastal areas, including parts of Manhattan, were submerged; road and subway tunnels filled with water. Heavy rains caused additional flooding along rivers and coastlines.
The overwhelming theme of the IWA conference in Busan Korea this week is to enable societies to get more value from their water systems. Highly technical events that focus on the latest science aimed at the most sophisticated systems discuss ways to generate electricity from the flow of water in the pipes, how to extract energy from the sewage and how to safely re-use and cheaply desalinate water. Sessions on basic access with a focus on Africa are stressing integrating water into urban design to build cheaper, more robust water systems. IWA uses the term "the water machine" and advocates a new way of thinking about water, where "single use" water is a thing of the past, and the pipes produce energy, nutrients, and water that is "fit for purpose." In this vision we will no longer use drinking water as a vehicle to move feces from one place to another.
At a session at the IWA conference in Busan, Korea, panelists debated the current thinking about public and private roles in supply chain management. All agreed that any sense of dichotomy was, as dichotomies often are, completely false. All utilities operate on a continuum. Even wholly public utilities subcontract some aspects of their work, whether it's the coding of their billing system or their catering services. And even so-called wholly private models rely on public agencies for some functions.
Many extremely smart people have famously made predictions that turned out to be really wrong. Consider this: "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." -- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943. Or this: "Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau." -- Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.
One third of the planet's freshwater is under the surface. While there is a 100 times more water in the ground than in rivers and lakes, all of it is not easily accessible. Although groundwater is considered a renewable resource, it may be hours old, hundreds of years old or even thousands of years old, depending on its depth and point of entry. At the same time, there are regions of the world such as Africa where the potential of large volumes of water naturally stored underground is not being used sustainably to reduce poverty, provide food security and contribute to climate change adaptation. But sustainable use of groundwater and the management of aquifer systems imply overcoming many hurdles, not only technical, but economic, social, and cultural.
Some consider that the most-hotly contested resource for development and survival in a future world will not be oil, but water. Supply problems are very easy to envisage on the surface of the Earth. But countries such as Australia look “down under,” to groundwater. They should know. From 46 to 67% of the water they use in agriculture is groundwater. One of the largest aquifer systems of the world -- the Great Artesian Basin -- is in Australia. But UNESCO lists it among the areas of significant groundwater decline, along with the California Central Valley and the High Plains area in the USA, western Mexico, several basins in Spain, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, the Indus basin in India, and the North China Plain. People use groundwater but most of the time they don’t know how much they have or how long will it take to recharge. Consequently many aquifers around the world are being depleted causing problems that may remain dormant for some time but that eventually will cause negative impacts on society and the environment.