The demand for freshwater is rising rapidly due to resource-intensive farming and a growing global population with expectations of higher living standards.
Our freshwater is found in the following water bodies, rivers, lakes, the atmosphere and groundwater.
Sadly, this constitutes only one percent of all the water on earth.
The importance of water can never be over emphasised. Get me right reader: the world is not “running out of water.” Rather it is the drinking water that is constantly under threat. Most water (97 percent) is in the oceans and this covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface.
We have three percent freshwater, two-thirds of which is tied up as ice in glaciers and at the poles. This leaves approximately one percent as freshwater in rivers, lakes, the atmosphere and groundwater.
The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that global warming will lead to “changes in all components of the freshwater system.” It concludes that “water and its availability and quality will be the main pressures on, and issues for, societies and the environment under climate change”.
The demand for freshwater is rising rapidly due to a growing global population with expectations of higher living standards and resource-intensive farming.
Climate change is adding to the problem because our weather patterns have become less predictable and more pronounced. While a number of areas are experiencing periods of prolonged drought, the rain that falls in some other areas is heavier. This leads to flooding without sufficiently replenishing groundwater stocks.
At present, however, the efforts to improve drinking water quality and wastewater treatment are not keeping pace with population growth and urbanisation. The growing population and rising economy has resulted in increasing consumption of water and discharge of wastewater, which cause heavy pollution. Water pollution not only reduces available freshwater, but also affects human health, the ecosystem, livelihood sources and biodiversity which is a key component of sustainability efficiency.
Chapter 18 of Agenda 21, agreed at 1992’s UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), called for “Protection of the Quality and Supply of Freshwater Resources: Application of Integrated Approaches to the Development, Management and Use of Water Resources”.
It is time to embrace the challenge to ensure water security for the nation through the availability of an acceptable quantity and quality of water for health, livelihoods, ecosystems and production, coupled with an acceptable level of water-related risks to people, the environment and economy.
Zimbabwe has a clear legal framework, which constitutes policies and plans that guide the management of its water resources with the aim of achieving a sustainable water resource management regime contributing to social equity, economic efficiency and environmental sustainability. There is, however, a need to integrate climate change into water resources planning and design activities by the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA).
The “polluter pays” principle needs to be strengthened to include real deterrents and real incentives not to pollute. The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has come in to ensure this is effectively carried out with penalties for repeat offenders which include criminal prosecution.
A water-constrained economy possesses significant risk for businesses. But corporations can also seize opportunities to offer sustainable water solutions via the goods, services, innovations and technology they provide. The high water usage in manufacturing processes implores many manufacturing plants to realise that small actions, through initiatives to reuse, recycle or reduce the use of water can make a big difference.
Water quality risks are often overlooked but may have significant financial implications on business. The quality of process water is critical in many industrial production systems, and contaminated water supply may require additional investment and operational costs for pre-treatment.
Recognising the plethora of risks associated with water, investors are now filing resolutions asking companies for more disclosure on water practices and performance, including water policies, environmental and social impacts of water use, and water usage throughout the value chain.
It is imperative to optimise water use across all industrial sectors. Optimisation of water by industries is important because it can lower water withdrawals from dwindling local water sources thus increasing water availability, improving community relations, increasing productivity per water input, lowering wastewater discharges and their pollutant load.
To address this challenge, joint efforts are needed, including transforming to green economy, innovating technologies, improving operation and maintenance, improving governance and management, promoting public participation. There are a number of options to overcome the water scarcity problem such as harvesting & harnessing rainwater, re-use of water, recycling of water used in industrial and mining processes, reclamation of water from waste water effluent, artificial recharge, enhancement of aquifers and water demand management initiatives. Raising awareness across sectors through training and carrying outsource vulnerability assessment, water use and waste water minimisation strategies will go a long way in curtailing the present challenge.
Water in the green economy focuses on the socio-economic opportunities that proper water management provides to social and economic development, while also safeguarding freshwater ecosystems.
The prevailing economic crisis highlights the need for sustainable development, emphasising the necessity for balance between economic, social and environmental progress. Both public and private investors should take advantage of the crisis as it provides the opportunity to develop new green investments in infrastructure and operation of water-related businesses that can provide very good returns on investment, proving beneficial for both the economy and the environment.
There is an overbearing need for policy-makers to adopt an integrated and holistic view of water in relation to issues such as population growth, planning and development, land use, valuation and climate change to ensure a smooth transition to green economy.
The Business Council for Sustainable Development Zimbabwe (BCSDZ) Water Technical Committee has already started to make strides towards a green economy with the mandate to inculcate the culture of sustainable resource utilisation, with integrated water resources management included in the Environmental Schools’ Competition that is to cover all areas across the country with the programme in full throttle in Bulawayo.
The thrust of the competition audits is to inspect the status of the schools/institutions on environmental obligations, accountability, and stewardship while promoting sustainable development.
The same can be extrapolated to the industrial sector, with several companies affiliated with the BCSDZ already conducting water audits and implementing wastewater minimisation strategies particularly those companies with sound environmental management systems based on ISO 14001 Standard requirements.
•About the writer: Fungai Khuzwayo is a Technical Projects & Office Administrator with BUMIRA Environmental Consultants in Bulawayo. She can be contacted on email: [email protected], Skype: fkhuzwayo, Twitter: @fuekhuzwayo, Mobile: +263 774 010 436