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True water security calls for our protection of ‘invisible’ water

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A child uses a hand water pump in Kali Besar, West Jakarta, in 2019. JP

True water security calls for our protection of ‘invisible’ water

Climate change is causing our global temperatures to rise, putting our most visible sources of water at risk. From Spain to parts of the African continent, droughts are being experienced at unprecedented levels.

The perils of climate change are also threatening the region’s water security. Southeast Asia is one of the regions projected to be most affected by climate change. Closer to home, almost 10 per cent of Indonesia is expected to experience a water crisis by 2045, with Java – the country’s most populous island, already feeling the effects of a water shortage as the nation experiences more droughts.

As water becomes a scarce resource in many parts of the world, countries especially Indonesia need to tackle water shortages quickly and efficiently. Water plays a crucial role in Indonesia, not only in sustaining the lives and livelihoods of the world’s fourth most populous nation, but it also supports its most important sector – agriculture.

One source of water that is often overlooked is groundwater. Put simply, groundwater currently provides almost half of all drinking water worldwide and about 40 per cent of water for irrigated agriculture globally, according to the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre. A 2019 report found that groundwater is an especially important resource, with 90 per cent of households using groundwater as their primary source of drinking water in Indonesia.

Despite its increasingly vital role, many still struggle to understand this invisible resource and find effective ways to actively protect it. Human activities and climate variability are rapidly increasing the pressure on groundwater resources. Now, a quarter of the world’s population is using water much faster than the planet can replenish its natural sources such as groundwater.

This World Water Day, with the theme of “Groundwater – Making the invisible visible”, experts around the world have noted that the time is now to actively protect all our water resources, especially groundwater. To sustain the world’s drinking water supplies, sanitation systems, farming, industry, and ecosystems, we need to utilise intelligent technology to ensure effective water management strategies and, in turn, protect and sustainably use groundwater.

The first approach is protecting the quality of this water source. Groundwater is especially vulnerable to pollutants from commercial or industrial activities, and even urban development. The Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry has reported a pollution of shallow groundwater in all large cities of Java. In Jakarta, 45 per cent of groundwater was noted to be contaminated by faecal coliform and 80 per cent by Escherichia coli.

Demand and waste production go hand-in-hand – the more we consume, the more waste we generate. Wastewater, when handled improperly, can have adverse effects on the biological diversity of aquatic ecosystems and disrupt the fundamental integrity of our life support systems.

Recognising this, water solutions providers are increasingly applying intelligent technology for wastewater management solutions. Through the Internet of Things, advanced real-time data collection and sensors, wastewater treatment facilities can operate in a more predictive manner, reducing downtime and avoiding serious business and environmental consequences. These systems are also able to ensure energy and other resources in the water filtration process are used as needed, achieving greater cost-effectiveness and sustainability, which can be key considerations for countries like Indonesia.

Beyond mitigating contamination, protecting the overuse of groundwater is also important. Rising demand for groundwater has caused cities to sink due to groundwater exploitation. In cities like Jakarta that have poor coverage from municipal water supply systems, years of extraction of groundwater has caused the capital city to sink by 12 centimeters per year in its northern parts.

The need for us to protect groundwater from overexploitation is more crucial now than ever. We must also protect groundwater from the pollution that currently haunts it, since it can lead to the depletion of this resource, extra-costs of processing it, and sometimes even preventing its use.

Encouraging water reuse can be an important tool in diversifying our water resources and reducing our reliance on groundwater. By ensuring wastewater is effectively treated to a quality that makes it possible to feed back into our water cycles, it allows to save water in a time of scarcity. Water treatment solutions now are capable of empowering companies to reuse their wastewater, reduce costs, and do their part to ensure that our natural water sources are not unnecessarily exploited.

It is also imperative that we think longer-term, specifically our contributions to climate change. Climate change can affect the amounts of soil infiltration, and rising temperature increases evaporative demand over land, which impacts the ability for groundwater resources to recharge.

Recognising the consequences of climate change, countries are already taking actionable steps toward decarbonisation, with a focus on renewable and clean energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is heartening that Indonesia has set its sight for net-zero by 2060 and aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 29 per cent by 2030.

However, water itself actually holds an intrinsic relationship with energy use. Energy is required to make water resources available for municipal and industrial use, from pumping, transportation, treatment, and desalination. With fossil fuels being the source of most of the energy produced today, water processes are indirectly responsible for producing large amounts of greenhouse gases, consequently contributing to climate change.

One way to reduce the carbon footprint of water processes is by making them more energy efficient. Technology has been a key enabler of energy efficiency and we are now equipped with capabilities to achieve considerably efficiencies in water processes, such as utilising digital or smart technologies to enable pumps to be more intuitive and responsive to fluctuating demand, adjusting water use through real-time monitoring.

Last but not least, when it comes to strengthening a nation’s water security, we should not neglect the fact that water solution providers can help the cause by introducing innovative solutions, as well as bring their own unique industry expertise to the table.

In neighbouring Thailand, Grundfos, through its water access initiative Grundfos SafeWater, was able to help over 2,000 farming households in the Chantaburi provinces increase their water access by over three million cubic meters annually, providing water throughout the year to irrigate the local orchards.

The World Water Day, which falls on March 22, reminds us of the interconnected nature of our activities and climate change. While many countries are dealing with the water crisis in their own way from groundwater extraction, it is crucial that we collectively work together to effectively manage our global water supply. To create meaningful and effective change, all of us – from governments to businesses to individuals – have a role to play.

Pia Yasuko Rask is a senior director at Grundfos SafeWater



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