The top 5 water stories of 2017
These stories not only cement the paramount role that water plays in our lives, but also highlight the changes that we would need to commit to so as to improve water quality and availability for everyone.
Below, you will find the top 5 water stories of 2017 that have life-changing implications for many and for our world as a whole.
Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world. Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian.
Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres. The US had the highest contamination rate at 94%, while European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, which was still 72%.
These analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of microplastic contamination in the global environment. These findings are alarming and raise a red flag, where it is certain that inty plastic fibres are everywhere, not just in our oceans but on land too. This realization unmasks Earth as a planet pervasively polluted with plastic.
However, what this means for the seven billion people who live on it, no one yet knows. More work needs to be done to replicate the results, find the sources of contamination and evaluate the possible health impacts, urgently.
Nations have agreed that the world needs to completely stop plastic waste from entering the oceans in a step “towards a pollution-free planet”. At a meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly on 6 December 2017, delegates agreed to establish a task force to advise on combating the global crisis of oceanic plastic pollution.
‘An estimated 4.4 to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic are added to the oceans annually,’ according to scientists for the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS), arguing before the UN resolution for why international consensus is needed. ‘More than 50 per cent of the ocean’s area sits beyond national jurisdiction, including the infamous “garbage patches” in oceanic gyres where plastic accumulates.’
The new resolution, agreed in Nairobi, urges all countries to, ‘by 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution.’
About 30% of Earth’s fresh water lies deep underground in aquifers. And it’s extracted daily for farming, drinking and industrial processes – often at dangerously unsustainable rates. Nowhere is this more evident than India, which guzzles more groundwater than any other country, even more than China and the United States combined. 54% of India’s groundwater wells are decreasing, meaning that water is used faster than it’s replenished.
In some parts, the levels are declining by more than one metre per year. A lack of proper wastewater treatment from domestic, industrial, and mining sources has meant that groundwater is being progressively contaminated by known and unknown pollutants, increasing the potential health risks to humans and ecosystems.
Similarly, surface water conditions are bad as well. All Indian water bodies within and near population centres are now grossly polluted with organic and hazardous pollutants. Interstate disputes over river waters are becoming increasingly intense and widespread. Not a single Indian city can provide clean water that can be consumed from the tap on a 24×7 basis.
India is now facing a water situation that is significantly worse than any that previous generations have had to face.
The record-breaking heat that made 2016 the hottest year ever recorded has continued into 2017, pushing the world into “truly uncharted territory”, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.
With global warming delivering scorching temperatures around the world, the resulting extreme weather means that impacts of climate change on people are coming sooner and with more ferocity than expected.
Aside from making dry areas drier, extreme weather changes are also increasing precipitation in other areas. These severe weather conditions have no doubt affected the accessibility and also quality of our drinking water. Here are some notable cases:
As of February 2017, a drought savaged Somalia that has left more than 6 million people, or half the country’s population, facing food shortages with several water supplies becoming undrinkable due to the possibility of infection. Two years have gone by without rain. Thousands of families travelled for days across scorched scrubland from Somalia to Kenya, including barefoot children with no food or water after their crops and livestock were destroyed by drought.
The lack of potable water has accelerated an acute diarrhea and cholera outbreak with an estimated 71,000 cases reported as of July 2017. 1.4 million children were projected to need treatment for acute malnutrition in 2017, according to the UN Children’s Fund.
As of Dec 2017, the situation has stabilized with a modest decline in the number of people in need through humanitarian efforts. Food security is expected to improve for agricultural and agropastoral households in 2018 with continued large-scale assistance and some rainfall during the Deyr 2017 rainy season.
In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey dumped trillions of gallons of rain on parts of Texas and Louisiana, spawning unprecedented flooding. With rainfall accumulation measured at 51.88 inches, Harvey set the record as the wettest tropical cyclone ever to hit the contiguous United States. It caused $200 billion in damage and left thousands homeless.
The floodwaters also contained a number of hazards to the environment and human health. The Houston Health Department stated that “millions of contaminants” were present in floodwaters. These include E. coli and coliform bacteria, where measurements of colony-forming units showed the concentrations were so high that there were risks of contracting flesh-eating disease from the water.
In July 2017, more than a million residents of Rome faced water rationing for up to eight hours a day as the prolonged heatwave that ravaged southern Europe took its toll on the Italian capital. Thousands of the city’s public drinking fountains were turned off in an effort to save water as the drought set in.
This disruption to the water supply was one of the consequences of a series of heatwaves that have fuelled wildfires, exacerbated droughts and led Greek authorities to close some of the most popular tourist sites. Blazes broke out across Southern Italy and Sicily, where temperatures climbed well above 40ºC.
Analyses were carried out by World Weather Attribution (WAA), an international coalition of scientists that calculates the role of climate change in extreme weather events, and they found clear and strong links between these events and human-caused climate change.
“Hot months are no longer rare in our current climate,” said Robert Vautard, at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in France. “By the middle of the century, this kind of extreme heat will become the norm in western Europe unless we take immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
2017’s World Water Day focused on the problems and possibilities posed by wastewater, that is water contaminated with human, agricultural, or industrial wastes.
While typically seen as a nuisance, the organic matter contained in wastewater from our sewage systems (commonly known as “sludge”) can become a valuable resource with sludge-to-energy systems.
Increasingly, wastewater – as well as other organic waste from sources like gardens and kitchens – is being used to heat homes, provide electricity, and even power cards.
Sludge-to-energy systems tackle many of the world’s most pressing environmental and economic issues simultaneously, including:
- Energy production – Using waste for energy is a cheap, renewable and readily available form of energy for many cities.
- Emissions reductions – Sludge-to-energy systems harness the methane released by sludge for energy instead of letting it escape into the atmosphere, where it would fuel climate change.
- Waste management – Many developing countries lack the infrastructure needed to properly manage waste and sludge, where they are often dumped directly onto land or nearby waters. A sludge-to energy approach provides a solution.
- Provide economic benefits – Sludge-to-energy systems reduce the need for more costly and polluting forms of power, such as fossil fuels.
While sludge-to-energy systems are not yet commonplace, they’re spreading throughout the world. The United States, China, Brazil, Argentina and Norway are just a few examples of countries turning wastewater into power.
Droughts in Somalia. Water rationing in Rome. Flooding in Jakarta and Harvey-bettered Houston. It doesn’t take a hydrologist to realize that there is a global water crisis.
Amidst these water crises, there is good news: governments, businesses, universities and citizens around the world are waking up to water challenges, and beginning to take action. With the passing of each year, new technology, innovations, and solutions are brought to the table.
At Mitte, we are on a mission to improve lives with better water. Our first product is a smart water system that harnesses the power of the natural water cycle. It first purifies tap water with our proprietary distillation-based method, removing pollutants like microplastics, pharmaceuticals, and heavy metals. The purified water is then enhanced with essential minerals to bring not just safe, but healthy water* to everyone.
However, even the best solutions will not implement themselves. On top of that, political will and public pressure are also critical resources in ensuring a sustainable future for all. With this in mind, we approach water challenges with new hopes in 2018.