• International Journal of Technology (IJTech)
  • Vol 15, No 3 (2024)

Addressing Water Sustainability in the 21st Century: The Role of Engineering and Technology

Addressing Water Sustainability in the 21st Century: The Role of Engineering and Technology

Title: Addressing Water Sustainability in the 21st Century: The Role of Engineering and Technology
Yudan Whulanza, Eny Kusrini, Nyoman Suwartha, Imam Jauhari Maknun

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Cite this article as:
Whulanza, Y., Kusrini, E., Suwartha, N., Maknun, I.J., 2024. Addressing Water Sustainability in the 21st Century: The Role of Engineering and Technology. International Journal of Technology. Volume 15(3), pp. 472-480

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Yudan Whulanza Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Universitas Indonesia, Kampus Baru UI, Depok 16424, Indonesia
Eny Kusrini 1. Department of Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Universitas Indonesia, Kampus Baru UI, Depok 16424, Indonesia, 2. Research Group of Green Product and Fine Chemical Engineering, Laborato
Nyoman Suwartha Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Universitas Indonesia, Kampus Baru UI, Depok 16424, Indonesia
Imam Jauhari Maknun Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Universitas Indonesia, Kampus Baru UI, Depok 16424, Indonesia
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Abstract
Addressing Water Sustainability in the 21st Century: The Role of Engineering and Technology

Water crisis ahead

Water, although plentiful on Earth, poses a paradox of scarcity due to its uneven distribution and limited accessibility. Earth contains around 326 million trillion gallons of water, but the majority of it, roughly 97% is saline, and another 2% is trapped in polar ice caps. This means that humanity depends on only 1% of Earth's water for survival for life. This small proportion is primarily located underground, which is challenging and expensive to reach, influencing the development of human settlements and economic activity towards more easily accessible surface waters such as rivers and lakes.

Throughout history, societies who efficiently controlled and utilized water resources thrived, whilst those that failed to do so experienced a fall. Contemporary instances, such as Cape Town, which came close to being the first big metropolis to experience water scarcity, emphasize the ongoing challenge. The experience of this city serves as a cautionary tale for other global cities, such as Sao Paulo, Melbourne, Jakarta, and Beijing, who may face "Day Zeroes" in the future. These "Day Zeroes" refer to the complete depletion of water supplies in metropolitan centers. To avoid this issue, dramatic adjustments in water usage must be implemented.

Water usage patterns expose other disparities, whereas human activities such as drinking, cooking, and hygiene only account for a small 8% of the available freshwater, the bulk is dedicated to agricultural and industrial purposes. This distribution not only emphasizes the unequal utilization of water, but also sheds light on the economic undervaluation of this important resource. Water is often underpriced in various areas, which means its actual cost is not accurately reflected. This leads to excessive use and wastefulness, which is not sustainable in the long run.

Economic activity frequently worsens local water shortages. For instance, Mexico City, although it receives a greater amount of rainfall compared to London, experiences significant water scarcity as a result of the previous drainage of lakes and excessive use of groundwater. The city is experiencing subsidence, causing certain portions to sink at a rate of up to 20 cm per year. Comparable difficulties are apparent in areas such as northern India, where underground water reservoirs are disappearing rapidly, posing a threat to the water security of millions.

The participation of the private sector in water management is on the rise, as institutions such as hedge funds are acquiring water rights. This has raised concerns about the potential commercialization and exploitation of water scarcity for financial gain. The implementation of this method has sparked ethical questions over the fair distribution of water resources, specifically the effect of pricing techniques on low-income communities who are disproportionately impacted by rising costs. Climate change exacerbates the burden on water resources by making precipitation patterns more unpredictable and less consistent. The lack of freshwater is leading to an increase in conflict, as seen by ongoing disagreements and violence in regions such as Darfur and northeastern Nigeria.

The growing crisis has stimulated interest in technology solutions such as desalination, which has experienced a more than twofold increase in capacity in the last decade. Nevertheless, desalination is characterized by high energy consumption and significant expenses, which renders it a less feasible choice for wider implementation considering the present economic assessments of water.

 

Innovation for water sustainability management

Different models have been tried by many towns and countries to tackle these difficulties. In 2017, Philadelphia implemented a system where water costs are modified according to income levels. The objective is to protect essential human requirements while avoiding additional financial strain on those with lower incomes. This paradigm exemplifies an increasing acknowledgment of the necessity to oversee water not just as a commodity with economic value but also as an essential entitlement of every human being.

The experience of Cape Town facing Day Zero in 2018 demonstrates both the possibility of a crisis and the ability of the community to respond collectively. The implementation of stringent water restrictions and active participation from the public in conservation endeavors successfully averted the predicted catastrophe, showcasing the efficacy of immediate collaborative measures. However, depending on crisis-driven conservation is not a sustainable approach, it is crucial to take proactive actions instead.

Accurate assessment and control of water require acknowledging its crucial significance in worldwide sustainability and the preservation of human life. Investments in infrastructure to mitigate leakages, which can constitute as much as 42% of the municipal water supply in areas such as Mexico City, are important. In addition, the implementation of water-efficient farming practices, enhancement of industrial water usage, and promotion of responsible consumption patterns might help alleviate some of the most urgent challenges.

With the ongoing increase in global populations and the changing climate conditions, the significance of water management becomes increasingly evident. With the intention of fostering global cooperation and tangible progress, the 10th World Water Forum in 2024, held in Bali, Indonesia, seeks to serve as a crucial milestone in bringing nations and people together to pledge to concrete and effective measures in ensuring universal access to clean water and proper sanitation. The experiences of places such as Cape Town (Capital of South Africa) and the current efforts being made globally offer both warnings and models for achieving a sustainable water future.

Ultimately, addressing the worldwide water crisis necessitates a comprehensive approach that encompasses policy restructuring, technical advancement, and active involvement of communities. By assigning the proper value to water and making investments in sustainable management practices, humanity can protect this essential resource for future generations, guaranteeing its ability to support life and prosperity on our planet.