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.
Hammerby Sjöstad, in central Stockholm, is integrated urban water management in action. The district, which was intended to be an Olympic Village, once was an old industrial area, but it has been transformed into a sustainable city.
Starting about a decade ago, the planners took on the ambitious goal of reducing the environmental footprint of the neighborhood by 50% compared to other recent developments in Stockholm. They brought in new ideas and put them into practice at surprisingly low costs.
While I was in Stockholm for World Water Week this past week, I spoke to Erik Freudenthal from GlashusEtt in Hammerby Sjöstad about the project.
As a water and sanitation specialist working in the development sector for almost two decades, I have often experienced the unease the topic of gender sometimes evokes. But this week, I have found myself among peers ready to talk about the issue with unrestrained gusto.
July was the hottest month on record in the U.S. and with it the price of maize jumped 23 percent. According to very rough estimate made in a blog from the Wall Street Journal, this means just $33 more at the register next year for the average U.S. grocery shopper. But it means much more for poor people in developing countries, who already spend up to 60 percent of their income on food.
Water conflicts have been in the news recently. And given increased volatility in international food prices and energy supply, due in part to water availability, greater international cooperation on the 80% of the world’s rivers that cross national boundaries is more important than ever.
Thousands of water development practitioners have begun to descend upon Stockholm for World Water Week, the annual knowledge-sharing event hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute. It was raining earlier today in Sweden’s capital. But some parts of the world have suffered through unprecedented high temperatures and drought. The drought in the US can be seen from space, as described in this Wired magazine article. This drought has led to damages to, and drops in, yields of crops of maize and soybeans, for which the US is the largest exporter in the world. It has also meant higher food prices.
... and the winner is an entry from the California Institute of Technology! Michael Hoffman received the prize for the "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge" from Bill Gates himself on August 14, 2012 in Seattle. The award winning technology model is based on a self-contained, sun-powered system that recycles water and breaks down human waste into storable energy.
Earlier this month, the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), Nordic Human Rights Trust Fund, and the World Bank’s Sanitation Thematic Group hosted Catarina de Albuquerque, the first UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to sanitation and safe drinking water. She discussed the human right to sanitation with sector and human rights experts, and what it means in practice. One of the most notable questions she addressed was--- if something is a human right, does that mean it has to be free?