To Save Our Blue Planet
Visualization of Water Footprint
How much water is needed to make a cup of coffee?
When considering water issues, the “water footprint” becomes an important indicator. It calculates the total water consumption throughout the entire supply chain, from sourcing raw materials and components to sales. Surprisingly, brewing just one cup of coffee (125ml) consumes 132 liters of water.
Why is it crucial to think about water issues? The current state of water resources holds the answer. Approximately 97% of the Earth’s water is saline, leaving only about 3% as freshwater. Out of this freshwater, nearly 99% exists in underground reservoirs and glaciers, while rivers and lakes account for less than 1%.
About 70% of these valuable water resources are consumed by agriculture. Certain foods, like meat and nuts, require more water compared to vegetables, resulting in significant differences in water consumption patterns among different countries. Additionally, industrial water usage, including in the production of digital devices and apparel, accounts for approximately 20% of total water use. For example, manufacturing a single smartphone consumes water equivalent to about 160 bathtubs. This week, we focus on the problems and solutions concerning water resources in various industries and regions, aiming to utilize our planet’s water resources effectively.
Protecting the Cycle of Resources Starting from Water
Clean water, sustainable energy, and sufficient food are indispensable elements of our lives. However, there exists a significant issue of trade-offs in resource utilization among these three factors.
For instance, while energy is essential for water purification and transportation, energy production itself also requires water resources. Moreover, there is a challenge of water needs competing in both the agricultural and energy sectors, creating a global issue. The Nexus Approach aims to achieve integrated and cross-sectoral management of water, energy, and food resources.
One example is the “Water for Energy” project between Israel and Jordan. This project involves Jordan exporting desalinated water to water-scarce Israel in exchange for clean energy generated by solar power. Such initiatives demonstrate the potential for cross-border resource allocation.
Additionally, the Lagdo Dam in Cameroon is another noteworthy example. The dam provides water storage for irrigation and hydropower generation, prioritizing agricultural water supply during the dry season and hydropower during the rainy season, contributing to both energy and food production.
With the projected increase in water demand due to population growth, collaborative efforts beyond sectoral and national boundaries will be increasingly required to utilize water resources without overburdening existing ecosystems and natural resources.
Where Does the Impact of Water Scarcity Fall?
What if a future where limited water supply becomes a reality is just around the corner?
The global water crisis is becoming increasingly severe, affecting regions regardless of whether they are developing or developed countries. Amidst exponential population growth, freshwater, which constitutes only a tiny fraction of our water planet, is becoming increasingly scarce.
This has led to the emergence of desalination technology as a solution. Desalination plants, which use seawater as a source of drinking water, are on the rise, especially in water-stressed regions in the Middle East. For these regions, transforming the vast ocean, occupying 97.5% of the Earth’s water, into drinking water seems like a dream come true. However, the process comes with various challenges and consequences. For one, the cost is substantial, making water an expensive commodity despite being the foundation of infrastructure.
Additionally, the byproduct of desalination, known as brine, is a high-concentration saline solution that is often discharged back into the sea, affecting marine ecosystems and oxygen levels.
The Middle East region is particularly affected by this issue, producing over 50% of the world’s total brine. The discharge of brine leads to changes in salt concentration near desalination plants, causing significant impacts on marine ecosystems, such as crabs and shellfish.
The Huntington Beach desalination plant in California has also caused controversy due to its plan to construct a desalination plant on the Pacific coast. However, residents in the region have been facing recurrent droughts, making it a difficult situation to find the perfect solution. Ultimately, it seems that finding a balance, rather than a definitive answer, will be the key. It is challenging to discover the perfect solution right now. Regardless, we must not forget that the benefits we enjoy come with consequences. This is also a fact that we must recognize.
Ensuring Security Through Water Business
When I tried to brush my teeth, the tap water in a hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, was muddy.
As someone who was accustomed to clean water in Japan, it was a shocking experience. However, what about during natural disasters like earthquakes or typhoons? In those situations, there is no guarantee that we can continue using safe water when infrastructure is disrupted. Here, I want to introduce efforts by companies working on solving various water issues from both a global and local perspective.
One such company is RiverRecycle in Finland. They aim to install 500 cleanup and recycling points in rivers contributing the most to ocean plastic pollution. This results in removing over 3 million tons of waste from the environment annually and also creates new employment opportunities for the host communities, benefiting over 400,000 people.
Another example is the Japanese startup, WOTA Corporation. They have developed a small portable water treatment plant called “WOTA BOX” and installed “WOTA BOX + outdoor shower kits” at evacuation centers during typhoon disasters. Their “small-scale decentralized water circulation system,” which enables the use of clean water anytime, anywhere, is innovative and continues to receive inquiries from overseas.
To solve the water issues surrounding people’s daily lives worldwide, it seems that a key lies in businesses that create beneficial economies in local communities by improving infrastructure and developing portable recycling technology.
A future where the security and safety of our daily lives are achieved through water issue resolutions may not be far away, reaching many people.