Despite the advanced age we live in, one in every 10 people doesn’t have access to clean water. That adds up to more than 800 million people worldwide. Billions of people are forced to draw their drinking water from contaminated sources, and the impact has been truly disastrous. Most countries in Central Asia, South America, Africa and Eastern Europe have more than 500,000 deaths related to unclean drinking water each year, which include at least 2,200 children. To combat this widespread issue, researchers are developing new technologies and processes as long-term solutions.
One of the initial issues of water contamination is human pollution. Renewable energy technology has taken a front seat on the industrial and economic stage, due mainly to the need to preserve our planet’s freshwater supply. The use of fossil fuels has had a significantly negative impact on our planet’s water resources, an impact primarily felt in more economically disadvantaged areas.g
New methods of energy
Essentially, to ensure more of the world has access to clean drinking water, we first need to literally change the way we literally power our lives. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, extracts natural gas for energy and requires huge amounts of water. Thermal power plants fueled by coal, gas, and oil all withdraw and consume water for cooling purposes. By switching over to wind and solar energy alternatives, we reduce the strain placed on these water sources and free them from industrial pollutants.
Contaminated water, also known as wastewater, causes more than 200,000 people per year to contract acute chronic diseases via parasitic worms in the water. Other diseases like cholera, chronic diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio are widespread across economically poor countries. The insects living and breeding in these regions affect clean water while people are collecting and distributing it, thus becoming disease vectors.
Clean water production through technology
By repurposing wastewater as a primary source for farming and irrigation, the areas with a limited supply of fresh water can better protect their clean water from contamination. Through effluent management and an increase in infrastructure, poorer countries will be able to reuse their wastewater and recover vital nutrients and energy for farmland and power. This practice has already begun in developing countries worldwide, and represents 7 percent of water used on irrigated land. With proper execution and management, this process will produce additional benefits which include an increase in food production.
Water purification has begun to expand from the realm of science and into the industrial and agricultural stage. There are many new and exciting developments occurring which, when finalized, will actually contribute to our clean water reserves. Solar stills are a technology that will preserve the current clean drinking water we have available and contribute more as well. The technology works by collecting impure water and using sunlight to evaporate the liquid. The vapor then condenses and drips down into a separate layer, where it’s collected and removed for use.
Solar stills are simple enough for private manufacturing and use, so with enough funding and materials, this type of process can create a completely independent source of clean water through solar energy and wastewater recycling.
In the future, desalination will serve as a similar process for clean water production on a global scale. Just like solar stills, desalination uses the sun’s thermal energy to power parabolic trough reflectors to heat collected seawater and generate vast amounts of steam. The friction boils the water and separates the salt and other impurities, creating fresh, clean drinking water.
On a small scale, the saltwater-freshwater returns may not warrant the use of this technology, but on an industrial scale, freshwater returns can be massive. Also, desalination can be implemented using wind power as well as solar power, thereby doubling the energy input and providing additional clean electrical power for nearby towns or villages. With the planet being made up of mostly water — the majority being seawater — desalination has the potential to provide those in dire need of clean drinking water with a regular source.
According to the World Health Organization, half the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas by 2025. While these various ideas and technologies are still in their infancy, there’s no doubt of the urgency of their implementation. We need to embrace green energy and technology — not just for the betterment of the planet, but for our daily survival as a species.