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Last summer was one of the hottest on record in Europe, with record temperatures sending millions of people across the continent seeking shelter from the heat. This summer, experts warn, it will be no different as a result of climate change - even after months of global lockdown, it reduced carbon emissions by 17% compared to last year.
However, it's not just prolonged heat waves that should be of concern. Rather, they should deplete fresh water sources. Much of France, for example, is expected to experience prolonged droughts between now and September.
The water shortage will not be limited to Europe, of course. In much of Africa and Asia, where freshwater sources are already scarce, extreme droughts will make things worse for hundreds of millions of people in the coming years.
According to the United Nations, around 800 million people lack even basic access to safe drinking water worldwide, while at least 2 billion people need to depend on severely polluted water sources, which spread diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever and other life-threatening illnesses.
"It is estimated that contaminated drinking water causes 485,000 deaths from diarrhea each year," notes the UN. Of these deaths, more than 360,000 are children under the age of 5. "By 2025, half of the world's population will live in water-scarce areas," adds the UN. "In the least developed countries, 22% of health care facilities do not have water service, 21% do not have sanitation services and 22% do not have waste management service."
Worse still, the current Covid-19 pandemic is adding to already serious health problems in communities without adequate sources of fresh water. In February this year, researchers suggested that the new coronavirus that causes Covid-19 disease could also be spread in human urine and feces.
Regular hand washing is recommended as an effective way to stop the transmission of the virus, but in communities where fresh water is scarce or heavily polluted, or both, even such a basic form of hygiene is literally out of reach for most. of people.
One solution to the problem of water scarcity is bottled water, as it provides a safe source of water for drinking and other uses. However, this can only be a temporary alternative and we know of the environmental problems that plastic packaging causes. A truly long-term solution requires new approaches to cope with acute water shortages.
Some companies are working on those solutions by moving toward 100% recyclable, reusable, or compostable bottles, made possible by innovations like biodegradable plastics. Avantium, a biochemical company in the Netherlands, is for those looking to mass-produce plant-based bottles that decompose naturally within a year. The project is backed by Coca-Cola and Danone and could be a big step towards reducing plastic pollution, particularly microplastics, and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
Increasing pressures on drinking water resources also mean that more ocean water needs to be processed to make it available as drinking water. Therefore, converting seawater to freshwater through desalination powered by renewables such as solar and wind power is likely to expand in scale. If done sustainably, desalination can guarantee a large amount of fresh water throughout the year, even in parched landscapes, as is already the case in Saudi Arabia, the largest producer of desalinated water.
Additionally, businesses, including agricultural ones, can do their part by improving their freshwater management practices to waste much less water unnecessarily. Doing so often should start with assessing risks to the water supply, including prolonged droughts, with effective technological tools. ” Corporate water risk assessment is the first step in water stewardship and, in fact, it is the most important, ”says Tom Williams, Director of Water at The World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
The coronavirus crisis is pushing society to be more sustainable and companies to change their ways. Water, perhaps the most important resource, should not be excluded from this transformation.