Almost two thirds of the world's population experience severe water scarcity for at least one month each year. Also, in the developing world, easy access to clean water and sanitation remains difficult due to the lack of infrastructure and resources. As a result, a number of people in rural and remote communities lack access to piped water and struggle with the effects of poor sanitation.
In 2020, despite the progress made, nearly a quarter of the global population still lacked access to safely managed drinking water services, according to the United Nations. Specifically, 74% of the global population had access to safely managed drinking water services, an improvement from 70% in 2015. However, 2 billion people still live without safely managed drinking water services, including 1.2 billion people lacking even a basic level of service in 2020.
Furthermore, eight out of 10 people who lack even basic drinking water service live in rural areas, and about half of them live in least developed countries (LDCs).
If we are to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) 6, "ensure access to water and sanitation for all", we need to continue to invest in and implement new and innovative technologies that can improve access to clean water and sanitation for all. This is particularly crucial in communities that currently lack such access. This includes not only the development and implementation of new technologies, but also the strengthening of existing infrastructure and systems, as well as increasing public awareness and education on the importance of clean water and sanitation.
To achieve these goals, United Nations member states are called upon to take measures to ensure access to affordable, clean drinking water and sanitation services for all people, with a special focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. These measures include:
- Building and upgrading infrastructure for water supply and sanitation
- Promoting hygiene education and behavior change
- Strengthening the institutional and regulatory frameworks for water and sanitation services
- Investing in research and development for new and innovative water and sanitation technologies
- Enhancing cooperation and coordination between different sanitation sectors and stakeholders
- Improving monitoring and reporting on progress towards the water and sanitation SDG targets
The Importance of Water Treatment and Purification
Water treatment and purification are important processes that remove impurities, harmful microorganisms, and pollutants from water to make it safe for human consumption and other uses. There are several technologies used for water treatment and purification, including physical, chemical, and biological methods.
These methods involve the use of physical processes to remove impurities from water such as:
- Filtration - Filtration is the process of removing particles from water by passing it through a filter.
- Sedimentation - Sedimentation is the process of allowing suspended particles to settle out of water.
- Distillation - Distillation is the process of heating water to its boiling point, collecting the steam, and then condensing it back into water, leaving impurities behind.
These methods involve the use of chemicals to remove impurities from water. Chlorination is a common chemical method used to disinfect water and kill harmful microorganisms. Other chemical methods include:
- Ozonation - In the ozonation process, ozone is dissolved into water and then circulated through the treatment system. The ozone reacts with the impurities and microorganisms in the water, destroying them and purifying the water.
- Reverse osmosis (RO) - RO uses pressure to force water through a semipermeable membrane that removes impurities.
These methods involve the use of microorganisms to remove impurities from water.
- Activated sludge is a process that uses microorganisms to break down organic matter in water
- Constructed wetlands use plants to filter water.
Each technology has its advantages and limitations. Physical methods are simple, reliable and efficient but may not remove dissolved impurities and are not effective in removing microorganisms. Meanwhile, chemical methods can be effective in removing impurities and killing microorganisms, but can also be expensive and may produce harmful by-products. Biological methods are natural, efficient, and cost-effective but can be slow and require a large area.
New innovations in water treatment and purification include the use of advanced oxidation processes, ultraviolet light, and membrane filtration technologies.
Technology's Role in Clean Water & Sanitation
Access to clean water is essential for human health, as well as for preserving the planet. A Slovakian proverb reminds us of this fact, stating, “Pure water is the world’s first and foremost medicine.” It is crucial that the world prioritizes action towards universal access to water and sanitation. This includes not only ensuring a water supply, but also treating wastewater to maintain a healthy planet. However, access to clean water and sanitation is still a major challenge in many parts of the world today.
Technology plays a crucial role in addressing this challenge. From water treatment and purification to sanitation systems, technology can help improve access to safe water and sanitation for all. In this article, we will explore the current state of technology in supporting clean water and sanitation, as well as innovations and new developments in this field.
Innovations in Sanitation
Sanitation is a vital service that plays a critical role in maintaining public health and protecting the environment. However, when almost half of the world population only has poor access to sanitation in their homes, there's room for diseases to run rampant.
As per the World Health Organization, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with human waste. Microbiologically contaminated drinking water can transmit diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio and is estimated to cause 485,000 diarrhoeal deaths each year.
In recent years, new innovations in sanitation have emerged, such as:
- Composting flush toilets - Composting toilets use biological processes to break down waste and produce compost, which can be used as a soil amendment.
- Greywater systems - Greywater systems reuse wastewater from sinks, showers, and washing machines for irrigation and other non-potable uses.
In addition, new tools and technologies are being developed to improve the sustainable management of water and sanitation systems, including digital solutions and data analysis. These innovations can help communities better understand and manage their water resources, reduce water loss, and improve the efficiency of sanitation systems.
Check out our guide on tips for a sustainable water supply in your city.
The Role of IoT in Water and Sanitation
The Internet of Things (IoT) plays a crucial role in the field of water and sanitation. It enables the collection, transmission, and analysis of big data from various sources, such as:
- IoT-enabled sensors and devices - IoT can be used to monitor water quality, flow, and level in real-time, which is essential for mass production and the larger population. Additionally, it can be used to identify patterns and trends of organic compounds and other pollutants.
- Remote sensing technology - Remote sensing technology, such as satellite imagery and drones, can be used to collect data on water resources and the environment.
- Machine learning algorithms - Machine learning algorithms can be used to analyze this data and identify patterns and trends that can be used to improve water-use efficiency and prevent water pollution. This is another area where machine learning and other forms of advanced analytics are being used is in the development of new solutions for water treatment and purification.
This data can be used by decision-makers to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of water treatment and distribution systems, as well as monitor and manage water resources.
IoT-Enabled Water and Sanitation Projects Around the World
The role of technological innovation in clean water and sanitation is crucial in bringing fresh water supplies to places plagued by water issues and water insecurity. For example, a recent study on the global water status by UN-Water found that 26% of the world's population struggle to find drinking water. Moreover, 44% of households are without proper wastewater treatment.
Below are a few examples of innovative water technologies being implemented across the globe
Amazon Web Services (AWS)
In response to climate change, AWS has a target of being 100% powered by renewable energy by 2025. They've also made their own commitment to being water positive by 2030.
- Water Efficiency
AWS uses cloud technologies to analyze real time water use and identify leaks.
- Sustainable Sources
AWS uses recycled water for cooling at 20 data centers around the world. They are also using harvested rainwater, wherever possible to preserve safe drinking water for local communities.
- Water Reuse and Replenishment in Communities
In Oregon, AWS enables the reuse of up to 96% of the cooling water from their data centers. This is beneficial for the agricultural sector as the water is provided to local farmers at no charge.
Likewise, AWS invests in water replenishment projects to address water scarcity in the communities where they operate. For communities that lack access to water, these projects expand community water access, availability, and quality by restoring watersheds and bringing fresh water, sanitation, and hygiene services to local residents in water-stressed communities.
The Middle East
The Middle East and North Africa region has 15 out of the 20 of the world's most water-scarce countries. Due to population growth, unsustainable water management, rapid economic growth, and ongoing conflicts, water shortages in the region are likely to worsen.
In Israel, desalination plants are part of local governments effort to increase the amount of desalinated water in the country’s overall water resources. Israel is a world leader in desalination and has several small plants with plans to construct several others in order to meet the basic needs of their main water users.
Israel Desalination Engineering Technologies (IDE) has announced plans to construct Israel’s seventh desalination plant in the Western Galilee region. The company was selected out of a large group of competitors for its advanced technology, competitive pricing, and its reputation as a global leader in the industry.
SOURCE Global PBC
Startup Zero Mass Water, now SOURCE Global PBC, makes drinkable water a renewable resource through its SOURCE Hydropanels. SOURCE Hydropanels produce high-quality, potable water using only sunlight and air, to provide sustainable drinking water for industrial, commercial, residential and community applications.
Global water cycles are changing and parts of Africa are getting drier. That's why Dar Si Hmad, a Morocco based NGO, developed the largest fog-harvesting project in the world.
In order to take advantage of the abundance of fog in the region, the project included:
- 600 square meters of a weave of large vertical nets to harvest fresh water from fog
- 7 reservoirs of 539 m3 storage capacity
- 6 solar panels
- 10,000+ meters of piping
This has been of enormous value to the village women who used to spend more than three hours a day walking to fetch water from far-away wells.
The Bahr El-Baqar Plant is one of the world's largest industrial wastewater treatment plants. The plant has four water treatment lines with a daily processing capacity of 1,250,000 cubic meters of wastewater. After the water is treated, it is used to irrigate 140,000 hectares of farmland alongside the Suez Canal.
Oman Sur desalination plant
The Oman Sur desalination plant, located in the Sharqiyah region of Oman, helps fight the depletion of the region’s limited groundwater resources by processing over 200,000 m3/day of seawater.
Through a collaboration with the technology experts of Veolia Group, Hubgrade was implemented. Hubgrade uses advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms to predict the evolution of strategic operational parameters, such as membrane fouling.
Hubgrade allowed the Oman Sur team to:
- Unlock the full value of their data
- Prevent unexpected shutdowns
- Proactively plan the maintenance schedule for clean-in-place (CIP) and membrane replacement
- Take a holistic approach to visibility of the operations and processes
- Access plant data and analytics empowering evidence-based decisions making when planning for membrane replacementF
The plant will also be equipped with over 32,000 solar panels in order to be powered by solar energy and reduce its carbon footprint. This move towards solar power is in line with the intent to develop renewable energy in the Middle East.
Though surrounded by water, Saint-Barthelemy is a dry island and has no natural resource of drinking water. In response, a seawater desalination system was installed to separate the salt by evaporation and recover the water. The first plant was built in 1972. However, to meet the growing demand for water, the Saint-Barthelemy facility ventured into:
- production by vacuum evaporation by thermo compression
- production by reverse osmosis
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
With a rapidly growing population, desalination and other water-purifying technologies are often expensive and require a lot of energy to run. However, scientists at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, operated by Stanford University, argue that researchers should use tools such as X-ray synchrotrons to better measure the properties of materials involved in purifying salty or otherwise contaminated water. In a recent publication, they suggested that X-ray synchrotrons can provide valuable insights into the fundamental processes involved in water purification. In turn, this can aid in the development of new and more efficient technologies.
Providing access to clean water and sanitation in developing countries is a critical and complex challenge that requires a holistic and multifaceted approach. This includes investing in the development of infrastructure, promoting education and awareness on the importance of hygiene and sanitation, and implementing innovative technologies to improve water quality and supply.
It also requires collaboration and partnership among government, non-government organizations, local communities and private sectors to address the unique challenges and context of each region. The goal of ensuring that everyone has access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation services is essential for human dignity, health, and sustainable development.
Check out our guide on choosing a charitable organization for clean water and sanitization to get involved.
Let Us Do The Heavy Lifting
Are you passionate about making a difference in the world and improving access to clean water and sanitation for all? Don't wait any longer, take action today and invest in GGI to support clean water and sanitation for all through technology. Together, we can help to ensure that everyone has access to the basic human right of safe and clean water. Let's talk!