When you are used to an infinite supply of water it’s hard to imagine countries where water scarcity is a real problem. Many people enjoy the luxury of fresh water, but a whopping 2.8 billion people don’t have access for at least one month of the year. Not only this but 1.2 billion people don’t even have access to clean drinking water.
Reasons for Water Scarcity
There are lots of reasons why a region might suffer from water scarcity. Changing weather patterns such as droughts or floods caused by climate change, an increase of pollution or sheer human demand. Some areas might have plenty of fresh water but it is situated in hard to access places.
Other areas may have had their water supplies mismanaged. Consequently, their water has not been used resourcefully.
Thankfully there are plenty of clever inventions that could solve the problem of water scarcity around the world.
Here are six of them:
Despite the fact that 71% of the earth is covered with water, more than half of the earth’s freshwater is found in our glaciers. However, due to climate change, most of our glaciers are melting away into the oceans and this freshwater is lost forever. Chewang Norphel, an Indian engineer working in the Himalayas, wanted to solve the problem of the disappearing glaciers.
He decided he was going to create his own. So far he has made ten artificial glaciers by diverting meltwater into plateaus where the temperature remains lower. During the summer months, this water can be then used for crops, drinking water and much more.
Artificial Ice Stupas of Ladakh
Water scarcity doesn’t just happen in areas where it is dry and hot. Ladakh is an extremely cold Himalayan mountain desert. It lies at altitudes of 2,700m to 4,000m in the north of India. Winter temperatures can drop as low as -30° C, and the area only gets an average annual rain and snowfall of 100 mm. Villagers have diverted glacial streams into canals which are essential in aiding desert areas to grow crops.
However, during the months of April and May, there is hardly any water and these streams dry up. In mid-June, however, there is an excess of water and sometimes flash-flooding. This is due to the melting of the snow and glacier in the mountains. So how to store all this excess water when there is plenty, ready for the months when it is scarce and needed?
Sonam Wangchuk was inspired by the work of Norphel and started working with students from the SECMOL Alternative Institute. He came up with his own idea to create artificial ice stupas. These are frozen blocks of ice that would slowly defrost in the planting months of April and May. The ice stupas were created using a long pipe with water flowing from the top.
As it flowed downwards it converted into ice due to the lower temperatures. Wangchuk realized that the sun and wind needed large surface areas to melt the ice. As the ice stupas had a small surface area, they melted at a slower rate and therefore could be stored for longer.
We’ve all heard of the rain dance, but technology has moved on and nowadays it’s lasers that are being used to induce a downpour. Jérôme Kasparian, a physicist at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, began firing short pulses from lasers into the air. He found that doing this ionized the nitrogen and oxygen molecules around the beam.
This, in turn, created a ‘plasma channel’ made up of ionized molecules. When humidity was high, large droplets would appear along the laser channel and fall as ‘rain’. Whether these results can be replicated on a larger scale still needs to be tested.
Solar-powered Water Disinfection Device
“I instantly knew I had to do something about the global water crisis,” said Kurup.
And she did. Her invention is a solar-powered water purification device that uses titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. When exposed to sunlight, these chemicals produce a photocatalytic composite that then purifies the water. Not only is the device safe but it is cheap and green.
Kurup won the first prize of $25,000 in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. She is going to spend some of her winnings on developing a prototype of the device.
The Ram Pump
Areas, where there is water, can still be classed as having scarce water. Take the small Philippines island of Negros, islanders have plentiful sources of water, but not near to where they live. This means that large volumes of water have to be carried up steep slopes and across long fields.
If the islanders want to wash or do their laundry, they have to make a trip to the riverbed. Getting to the water involves climbing down slippery river banks with heavy jerry cans on their backs. Then they have the problem of climbing back up again with these cans full of water.
Dutchman Auke Idzenga worked alongside his colleagues in local NGO, to make a ram pump, a device that pumps water uphill without the use of electricity. Originally designed by ballooning Montgolfier brothers, a ram pump is made by using the gravity to act as a drive to push water uphill.
So long as there is a fall of about 3ft and the water is constantly flowing, this action is enough to force the water up.
A Dry Bath
Should we try and conserve water, even if we live in civilized areas where there is no water scarcity? I believe that everyone should do their bit, not just for the environment, but for the future of this planet. One young man was on holiday in Limpopo, South Africa, when his friend began complaining about having to get up and take a bath. He said:
“Man, why doesn’t somebody invent something that you can just put on your skin and you don’t have to bath.”
Ludwick Marishane went away and came up with a lotion he called DryBath. DryBath is a mixture of bioflavonoids, essential oils and chemical Tawas that help to eliminate odors. One use of DryBath saves four liters of water.
You don’t have to be a clever scientist to save water in your own home.
Here are ten ways in which you can help with the scarcity of water around the world:
- Take showers instead of baths
- Use a dishwasher instead of washing-up by hand
- Don’t keep the tap running when you are brushing your teeth
- Only boil what you need for a hot drink
- Turn off the tap when washing your hands
- Don’t flush the toilet when you pee
- Reuse the water from hot water bottles to water your plants
- Reuse pasta water for plants
- Wash the dog outside so the lawn gets a soaking
- Take the car to a carwash where the water is recycled
If you have any water-saving tips, please let us know in the comments section below!