Access to clean water is necessary for survival. In 2010, the United Nations even deemed it a basic human right, yet around 790 million people still don't have access to clean water. Whether it's inadequate infrastructure or a lack of funding, the clean water crisis is a pressing concern.
Our fresh water sources remain generally the same as they've always been.While it's true that some of our largest lakes and streams are drying up, the main issue at hand appears to be population. Across the planet, the number of humans has risen enormously over a short period of time. As a result, clean water and food supply are in high demand, so high, that it often can't be met.
The Clean Water Crisis: Near and Far
Across the world, many countries struggle just to stay hydrated. Clean water is scarce, making drinking, bathing, cooking, and growing crops a challenge. While everyone is affected by this scarcity, women and children struggle the most. Children are oftentimes more susceptible to disease, and dirty or contaminated water are common culprits of sickness in these regions. For women, the responsibility is placed on them to transport water from the source back to their families, resulting in an estimated 200 million hours of this task completed each day.
Back in the United States, many cities are victims of the clean water crisis as well. Older cities still use their original lead pipes, causing a myriad of health concerns. Heart problems, reduced kidney function, reproductive issues, and even fetus health are just a few of the many problems stemming from lead pipes.
Out of all of the lead pipe contamination stories, one made headlines for its catastrophic damage: Flint, Michigan. In 2014, the state of Michigan began building a new pipeline to source water from Lake Huron to Flint. Once homes began receiving the water, they noticed an unusual smell and taste. After numerous tests, it was reported that the water had a dangerous amount of lead and iron in it, due to improper water treatments and lead pipes.
Flint's water crisis has gained massive media attention, with little-to-no change
Over 5 years have passed since the discovery of the dangerous water for Flint's population, yet little has changed. Lawsuits and investigations are being aimed at the leaders of the infrastructure, but to no avail. Just a few days ago, the whole case and all of its lawsuits were dropped. As of June 2019, the trials will now start from scratch, while the citizens of Flint suffer at the hands of unclean water.
When it comes to tech, the sky is the limit. From 3-D printed organs to lab-grown meat, there really isn't anything tech can't do. And with that amazing potential comes the opportunity to apply tech's powerful force on some of the world's most pressing issues, the clean water crisis included.
One of the biggest successes comes from Innovative Water Technologies' solar-powered water filtration system. Their invention of the SunSpring Hybrid makes portable solar and wind-powered filtration systems a possibility. Because these systems don't require electricity to work, they can serve as a lifesaving solution for much of the world's population. Plus, the SunSpring system boasts an amazing 20,000 liters of clean water per day.
Another tech-powered clean water solution is desalination. Our planet is 70% covered by oceans. While saltwater isn't safe for drinking, taking the salt out of the equation with desalination makes it so. Many different companies are working on perfecting an efficient system that can desalinate water on a large scale to provide clean drinking water for the masses. One of the largest hubs for this technology is Israel, where 50% of the country is desert.
Israel is the leading country for desalination technology
For emergency situations, Vestergaard offers their unique portable drinking straw. This straw (now available in steel instead of plastic) works by using a specialized filtration system that removes 99.9% of bacteria and parasites. Each straw can filter well over 1,000 liters of water, making it a great tool in times of emergency.
Most recently, the clean drinking method that is gathering momentum is harvesting water from the air. There are two main methods for doing so, the first being to use natural metals and organic materials to attract and capture moisture from the air. The first prototype of this technology is called MOF-801, invented using research by scientist Omar M. Yaghi. The MOF-801 is reported to harvest 2.8 liters of water per day.
The second harvesting method is the solar-powered method from Zero Mass Water. This system works by harnessing the power of solar energy with a small lithium-ion battery to attract and harvest condensation from the air. Because the battery is built within the system, the panels don't require sun for the entire day, which means that water can theoretically be harvested 24/7. Zero Mass Water's solution is reported to provide 2 to 5 liters of clean water per day.
While all of these technologies are impressive, one major issue still remains: scale. The technology behind these methods is powerful, but the scale leaves more to be desired. Harvesting a handful of liters of clean water per day only has the potential to help a few people. With 11% of the world's population struggling at the hands of a lack of clean water, we need something bigger.
The process of desalination is promising, but it also comes with its own set of problems. The cost of installing such a system is extremely high, and not every country has the funding or space to invest. Plus, the environmental impact is a concern, seeing as desalination increases surrounding water temperature and alters natural currents.
No matter what, every step is a step in the right direction. With tech on our side, it's a matter of time before we start to tackle the global water crisis head-on. But for now, we need to preserve the water that we do have access to. Don't take more than you need; share what you are fortunate to have.