In many regions of the world, there is a shortage of clean drinking water. If water consumption exceeds renewable resources by 40 percent, experts refer to this as extreme water stress. At present, about 2.5 billion people live under water stress. According to estimates, by 2025 this will include than half of the world population. How can we meet these challenges? What are the solution approaches? LANXESS has invited representatives from the fields of politics, science, environmental organizations and industry to a round table discussion of these questions.
Large-scale water consumers – a global challenge
The world’s three main consumers of water are industry, agriculture and consumers. Throughout the world there are differences: In industrialized regions, water consumption is higher than in agricultural regions. In agricultural countries, it’s the opposite.
In agriculture, large quantities of water are used to irrigate fields for the cultivation of food crops. In addition, fertilizer degrades water quality if it is used excessively.
Consumer behavior also makes a contribution to water consumption. Meat production requires considerably more water than the production of vegetable foods. About 15,500 liters of water are necessary to produce a kilogram of beef. A kilogram of grain only takes 1300 liters. This was calculated by the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education. Experts call this “virtual water”. Water is also imported through the import of fruit and vegetables from foreign countries.
Industry is one of the largest consumers of water. In many sectors there has already been rethink, but not everywhere in the world. For example, water cycles have been closed and polluted water purified. This is made possible by modern water treatment technologies.
Holistic perspective necessary
To deal with the problem of water stress, experts prefer an interdisciplinary, holistic approach. This considers all users of the resource water in the water catchment area, the consequences of the measures that have been implemented, as well as the time factor. The International Water Stewardship Program of the German Society for International Cooperation was cited as an example of a promising approach. Water stewardship means that all water users take responsibility for their impact on the jointly used resource and cooperate to achieve sustainable management. The concept is based on the idea that water problems cannot be resolved by individual actors, but rather can only be eliminated by coordinated, joint action.
Call for action
The participants considered political statutory regulations to be initially restrictive for businesses. They did see, however, that regulations also contain the potential for technical innovations. Furthermore, the experts called on the capital market to include the criterion of water more strongly in the evaluation of investment strategies.
In the field of agriculture, the use of intelligent irrigation systems, such as those which are now in use in Israel, could be a suitable measure to combat water stress. The export of water-intensive products from regions where water is plentiful into regions where water is scarce could be a part of the solution. In addition, the pricing of water was also discussed.
The industrialists called for the participants to develop and implement new technologies, such as water circulation methods.
Jean-Marc Vesselle, Head of the LANXESS business unit Liquid Purification Technologies, stated that water treatment technologies were driven by demand. Throughout the world, the need for drinking water treatment is increasing. “Our objective is to communicate solution approaches. The focus is on an appropriate combination of products.