[Viewpoint] It’s time to turn to water

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[Viewpoint] It’s time to turn to water

As we already know, three-fourths of our planet consists of water. However, only 1 percent of that is suitable for drinking. According to the United Nations, by the year 2025, more than 3 billion people may suffer from water shortages. Currently, more than 1 billion people around the globe survive on just over 5 liters (1.3 gallons) of water per day, which is equal to the amount of water used to flush a toilet.

From an industrial standpoint, it takes up to 148,000 liters of water to manufacture a car. There is not a single industry or infrastructure today that is not dependent on water. This turns our attention to the fact that wasting water could cost us a lot more than we dare to imagine.

These numbers have been existent for quite some time but the awareness toward a water shortage and the need to conserve and increase the water supply is still very low. Moreover, it is even harder to find individuals, corporations or the government taking actual actions to prevent a water shortage from becoming reality.

First, there is an immediate need to increase people’s awareness toward the issue, and for each and every one of us to invest more effort into improving our daily water consumption. In 1992, the United Nations declared March 22 as ‘World Water Day,’ inviting nations and corporations around the world to devote the day toward arranging activities with a regard to a tangible solution for water shortages.

To raise public awareness of the importance of conserving water around the globe, Siemens has also introduced a ‘Personal Water Calculator’ application on Facebook for World Water Day in 2010, where people can calculate the amount of water they use by simply inputting numbers that reflect their daily water usage. It also provides suggestions on various measures through which individuals can reduce their water usage.

Calculating and contributing to the conservation of water also needs to be carried out at an industry level. Following five simple steps - auditing water usage, treating water as a valuable resource, reusing and recycling water as much as possible, reducing waste and considering the water/energy link - can bring a significant difference to industrial water usage.

With technologies available to treat water to virtually any specification, a proper audit followed by independent expert advice can help industries discover methods that can benefit them the most and use water sustainability in the long run. For example, one beverage manufacturer recaptured the water it was using for bottle washing, consequently saving 25,000 gallons of water a day.

On the other hand, one biopharmaceutical manufacturer recovered its waste stream and reused its feed water, which allowed the company to recover more than 52 million gallons per year.

Lastly, acknowledging that treating water is an energy intensive activity, and that reducing water consumption equals less energy, facilitates water conservation efforts.

Municipalities are also gradually turning to reusing wastewater as a cost-effective way to manage its water supply.

Singapore, for example, which has been suffering from a shortage of water resources, has established a water reclamation plant that now treats more than half of the country’s used water, utilizing primary and secondary wastewater treatment equipment and a full-scale membrane bioreactor system.

This has enabled reclaimed water to now meet 30 percent of the island’s water needs and helped reduce imported water needs to 40 percent of total consumption.

Nevertheless, there is still a lack of investment and effort toward developing technology for using water resource in a smarter way.

According to the Cleantech Group, only 2 percent of global institutional venture capital is focused on smart water investments. Considering how crucial water is to everyday life and society’s well-being, the number is shockingly low.

It is essential for individuals, companies and governments to actively join the movement toward changing how they consume, manage and recycle fresh water, to make a real and lasting impact on water accessibility across the globe.

It is time for policy makers, corporate citizens and all participating parties of the economy to further contemplate this issue and engage in appropriate action.

*The writer is president and CEO of Siemens Korea, Seoul.

By Josef Meilinger
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