projects, water science

The Biggest Issue of the 21st Century: Water Security

1 Comment 24 November 2010

The Biggest Issue of the 21st Century: Water Security

Global water demands are increasing. Food security and energy production are major considerations in global water security. Public health and economic development are in large part moderated by the management of water systems. Essentially, the future of the world is contingent upon safe and sustainable water systems. But how is the international community addressing this concern?

Civil and environmental engineers are advancing techniques in water management. Sharing best practices in project implementation is crucial to the future of sustainable water projects in both the industrialized and developing world. How are environmental engineers tackling the mounting social issues that surround the water demands that exceed the supply of it?

Dr. Pedro Alvarez is the George R. Brown Professor and Chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department of Rice University. In a telephone interview, Alvarez told WaterWideWeb, “Ensuring reliable and affordable access to safe water is one of the biggest issues that we face in the twenty first century.”

Making clean water accessible in the developing world requires an increase in efficiency in water infrastructure and a decrease in materials and energy used for completing projects. Environmental engineers are developing innovative mechanisms to meet the growing water demands with several factors in mind.

Adjustments to existing and new water systems call for technical simplicity. In order for water systems to successfully supply a community with water, the framework should be uncomplicated so that maintenance to the system can be provided without requiring assistance of experts.

The social-cultural acceptability of new water initiatives plays a part in the success of particular engineering endeavors. Reframing the way people think about the significance of water and the means of acquiring it are the next steps in innovative water provision methods.

For example, implementing water recycling paradigms in developed countries may be met with resistance. Individuals in different cultures and social classes may oppose the trend of treating waste water and then recycling it for drinking water.

Information about water engineering projects should also be disseminated so that end users may understand the framework of water programs and share the technology with others at the local level. In this way, the project can be maintained from within the community. If the water system needs repair, local users can fix the problem without forgoing access to water for long spells until an expert arrives to remedy it.

“Technology is not enough. Responding to increasing water demands requires a multi-disciplinary effort that includes education and a sanitation plan”, continued Alvarez. Reliance on unconventional water sources and treatment plants are the next steps in global water sustainability.

“The single-most important engineering contribution of the twentieth century was treating water.” In the twenty first century, engineers must extend and enhance that contribution to meet growing water needs.

Digging water wells, installing chlorinators and bio-sand filters are proven methods of supplying safe water in the developing world, yet these are not sufficient to save the lives of 4100 children who die on a daily basis due to lack of clean drinking water . Clean water will decrease the mortality rate of water borne diseases, lengthen life expectancy and improve quality of life.

So what are we waiting for?

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