Blue gold of our era, water acquires today a priority position in the ranking of international political and economic interests, as well as inside the framework of development topics more in general.
The world situation of crisis that we are experiencing linked to the awareness that there is no life without water, because water is life, are quickly and radically transforming the economy of our planet.
Demand for water is rapidly increasing, due to the expansion of the industrial sector, population growth, and the rising needs for energy production, for the agri-food sector, thus resulting in an exasperate human pressure on water resources that is absolutely unsustainable.
(Albert Szent-Gyorgyl, Hungarian Scientist)
While the amount of available water is drastically running low, another important problem takes place in the panorama of global emergencies: water deterioration. Industries, urban pollution, agriculture and climate change strike and degrade 90% of the existing water basins in Europe. Data are alarming. Two-thirds of the world population lives in areas that are affected by water scarcity and 80% of the wastewater (in some developing countries even 95%) is released into the environment without any treatment, with devastating consequences at any level.
According to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) water abstraction is going to increase by 55% between 2015 and 2050, and the United Nations rise the alarm. Two out of the seventeen UN SDGs, in fact, directly concern water, while thirteen out of the remaining fifteen are unattainable without its proper management
Climate change, environment protection, industry growth, agriculture and food safety, energy production, gender equity, social development, migratory flows and conflicts: everything is connected to water, especially in emerging economies, developing countries and LDCs, where the levels of vulnerability and precariousness make the need for change absolutely urgent.
The most vulnerable states of the planet base their economy on agriculture, which is the sector that has been the most affected by climate change and this situation risks turning into a hardly reversible emergency situation. In such contexts the concept of “nexus” (two sectors that are closely connected, for which the crisis of one necessarily entails the crisis of the other) requires a special attention, in particular as regards the following combination: water and climate, water and energy, water and agro-food.
Especially in fragile areas, the persistent absence of proper water management systems is going to trigger disastrous consequences in terms of food security, climate and energy, which will than rapidly affect all the other core sectors of human life (health, social development, gender discrimination, conflicts, economy and poverty, migration).
On the contrary, the implementation of functional modes for water management can have an extraordinary impact on rural empowerment, supporting climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. The enormous untapped potential that is today represented by efficient water management systems is not only connected to innovative technologies, but greatly depends on local skills, capacities building and effective governance.
The current knowledges, in actual facts, allow to develop and implement effective, functional and tailor-made mechanisms for water management even when technological solutions might be not available or affordable.
The implementation of methodologies for the effective management of water today offers extraordinary opportunities not only to strengthen resilience of societies to against the impact of climate change and environment deterioration, but also to boost overall growth and transform the economy in a mean for sustainable development.
The top down and bottom up implementation of new systems of proper water management represents a core need for most of the actors belonging to the politic, economic and civil society spheres.
Implementing functional systems of water management leads governments to:
Governments, above all in emerging economies, developing countries and LDCs, face enormous expenses related to improper water management that produce low hygiene and sanitation, critical health conditions, food insecurity, expansive productions of non-renewable energies, natural disasters, environment degradation, etc. Economically speaking, it is much more appropriate to invest in partial or radical changes in water management.
Improper systems of water management, which is the case of almost all the developing countries and LDCs, represent one of the basic causes of non-adaptation to climate change, food insecurity, vulnerability to natural disasters (floods, drought) lack of energy basic needs as well as for the industrial sector, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, environment degradation, critical health conditions, poverty, migrations and conflicts.
Water and climate, as well as water and food, are strictly interconnected and depend one on each other. Climate change impacts on water, and vice versa. Efficient systems of water management can preserve natural resources and increase the presence of surface water, which in the short run helps adaptation to climate change, while in the long run supports its mitigation.
Improper water management essentially leads to two harmful consequences: Water scarcity and resulting destructive human pressure over natural resources; Problems of water and ground pollution due to the waste water that is directly released into the environment without any treatment. These conditions impede local development and growth, and keep countries stuck in extreme vulnerability.
Hydropower relies both on environmental features and local capacities to sustainably and proficiently exploit the existing resources. Moreover, another source of energy production comes from waste water thanks to the extraction of its heat, which can be used as it is or turned into electricity.
Fifteen out of seventeen SDGs are related to water. This means that sustainable and proper systems of water management are a core and essential element to reach UN goals.
As the United Nation World Water Development Report 2017 stated, today waste water represents an untapped incredible resource. Technology and knowledge, in fact, allow to transform used water in a real source of socio economic growth, by developing at the same time innovative systems and policies for environment safeguard, climate change adaptation and mitigation. Waste water can be treated and reused as drinking water, can be treated and reused for agricultural needs, can be reused for industrial needs and to produce clean energy. Moreover, important components (some of which are running low in nature) as nutrients and minerals (metals, phosphorus, azote) can be extracted from waste water, reintroduced into the market and sold.
Waste water reuse aims at recognising the value in water to allows governments to turn high costs of water treatment, which is today indispensable to preserve the local environment and solve crucial problems, into a real source of income and market opportunities. This means developing a new sustainable and fruitful economy based on natural resources protection, for which the financial interests and environment wellness are directly proportional.
Effective policies and mechanisms of water management strongly support economic growth, promote market diversification and specialization, increase safe environment conditions, and improve the overall stability of the countries, thus creating conducive contexts to attract national and foreign investors.
In the agenda of the European Union water remains an absolute priority, and while inside the EU Parliament meetings and initiatives on this topic keep growing, the European Commission decides to confirm water as a key subject for the next Framework Program (FP9) for research and development that will continue, from 2021 until 2028, the current Horizon 2020.
This means the availability of huge amounts of funding for universities, research centers, companies, organizations and public bodies who wish to take part in the process of innovation and growth of the water sector. Also private foundations funds are more and more converging toward water sector considered to be a key tool for development.
The importance of water and its growing scarcity increasingly risk triggering conflicts between neighboring countries that share common natural resources. Moreover, improper national polices and systems of water management implemented by one or more bordering states reciprocally hamper local growth and comprehensive development, by threatening the stability of the whole area.
Developing new and often simple systems of water management may really support farmers to:
save water with more accurate irrigation systems, reduce the local pressure on natural resources and protect or recreate conducive environments for the development and growth of rural sector.
reduce harmful effects of climate change and contribute to its mitigation in the long run.
increase and improve food production, with positive effects on local population health and economic growth.
ameliorate hygiene and sanitation conditions.
reduce their vulnerability to natural disasters, and overall instability.
actively take part in the process of change toward a much more sustainable and inclusive economy.
Information, knowledge and new technologies can concretely transform water management systems of companies, by allowing them to:
reduce pressure on natural resources and environment pollution.
decrease vulnerability to energy shortage, which can generate heavy impact on production.
reuse or sell waste water, extract and make available in the market critical metals, energy, and nutrients contained in the waste water streams.
reduce production costs.
develop new local and international clusters, networks and partnerships.
obtain access to funds for technological innovation systems and production processes.
invest in the new growing water market (waste water related activities, green energy, raw materials, green and hybrid infrastructures, nature-based solutions, technology development).
To preserve natural environment, support and promote global sustainable development and overall growth, it is absolutely urgent to build key capacities, allowing the implementation of proper policies, systems and behaviors for water management and governance at any level, for governments, relevant organisations and the civil society.