Water Efficiency: Why We All Have Responsibility for Water Wastage
Water efficiency – It’s no surprise that here in the UK, we aren’t exactly thrifty with our water usage. The climate is partly to blame – averaged out across the whole country, we get 133 days of rain or snow every year, totaling 34 inches of precipitation. Up in the hills, the annual rainfall can be double that.
In other words, we are not used to thinking of water as a scarce commodity.
That is reflected in how we use it. The average person in the UK uses 150 litres of water every day. Here is how that breaks down into some key uses:
- Running a bath uses up 80 litres
- A five minute shower uses 45 litres
- A fully loaded washing machine can consume anything from 50 to 100 litres
- A dishwasher takes 12 to 20 litres.
For most of us, we take water for granted and don’t think twice about leaving the tap running while we brush our teeth, or having an extra long hot shower. And that is only thinking about domestic use. In commerce and industry, the volumes of water used are much, much higher and a water efficiency strategy is important.
A finite resource
It might not seem like it to us with so much of the stuff falling from the sky, but water is a finite resource. There is only so much of it on the planet to go around. In many areas of the world, particularly in the middle east and North Africa (MENA), this is much more apparent. The daily realities surrounding water use are very different from the comparative luxuries that we have at home.
In these dry locations, water comes at a premium. In many areas, no plumbing exists and water must be fetched by hand every day. If obtaining the water wasn’t difficult enough, it is often untreated and full of pollutants, animal droppings, bacteria and other nasty creatures that can cause serious health problems.
Because of its scarcity, just getting access to water becomes a major occupation for whole populations.
60% of the region’s population lives in areas with high or very high water stress
You may not have heard the term “water stress” before, as it’s a completely foreign concept to water supply in our own countries. Water stress is when usage exceeds the sustainable limits for an area. Essentially, water is being drawn from sources faster than it can be replenished.
It can be difficult to imagine going even a day without a drink, but this is the reality for many people in the MENA region who can’t be sure if water will be available from one day to the next.
Water scarcity is expected to cut GDP of the affected regions by 6 to 14 percent by 2050
Climate change is compounding the problem of water scarcity. As global temperatures rise and become more unpredictable, areas that are already bordering on deserts will only continue to get drier. When an area runs out of water, the people who live there have no choice but to abandon their homes and literally look for greener pastures.
Even areas with valuable natural resources such as gold or oil cannot continue to maintain an industry if they are located hundreds of miles from the nearest water source. Business and industry just can’t exist without nearby sources of water.
Water scarcity is a major driver of migration, which is creating population pressures all over the globe. The UK included.
How can water scarcity be addressed?
The world over, people use water with little regard to efficiency or sustainability. In lands of plenty like ours, we don’t think twice about leaving taps running or using water in ways which leads to completely unnecessary waste.
And the picture is exactly the same in areas where scarcity is a real social and environmental issue. More than half of the waste water collected in the Middle East and North Africa is simply dumped back into the water supply untreated. This includes everything from human sewage to chemicals and can be a major source of health hazards and disease. A lack of infrastructure to support more efficient use of water is only making the problems worse.
Waste water represents a significant opportunity to reduce water stress. Through waste water recycling, the MENA region could be much closer to meeting its water demands. Instead of using precious fresh water for, say, toilet flushing, non-sewage effluent could be diverted and used again.
But these are examples those of us lucky enough to be in areas of water plenty should also follow and perhaps set. We can all learn to use water more efficiently, and treat it like the precious resource it is. There are also economic opportunities here. Through innovation and financing from the private sector, UK businesses have an opportunity to become leaders in a global sustainable water economy, taking the ideas and technologies to improve water efficiency where they are needed most. Water efficiency is very important and we should all be doing more.