Water or H2O, as it is scientifically known, is regarded as the building block of life. It is commonly known that 70 percent of the human body is made of water, which is why drinking water is extremely important. More specifically, according to a special report published in the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, ‘water makes up most of your body, ranging from about 75% of body weight in infancy to 55% of body weight at older ages’ (‘Drink Up’, 2016). On a more macro level, water is especially important to industries especially for agricultural irrigation and manufacturing processing; activities that are vital to a country’s economy, among many others that require water. This necessitates addressing the pressing need of water scarcity especially in regions like the American Southwest occasioned by factors like over-extraction of groundwater, less annual rain and snowfall, climate change and overpopulation among others (Talbot, 2015). This paper details the importance of water and measures available in enhancing the world’s storage of clean drinking water especially desalination, amidst raging water scarcity.
Water: Definition and Importance
Fundamentally, water is a colorless, tasteless, odorless transparent liquid that all life on Earth needs for survival. Further, it is the only substance that exists naturally on Earth in all three states, that is, liquid, solid and gas. Water molecules are made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. This gives water the property that makes it important for our cells (and essentially, the body) to work and function in the right way by keeping it hydrated. People need water to drink while governments and farmers need it to grow crops to feed large populations. The importance of water is accentuated by the negative side effects accompanying not drinking enough water which basically affect the quality of one’s everyday life. These include feeling tired, sick and light headed, a reduction of body response time, low energy, headaches or even not thinking clearly among others (‘Drink Up’, 2016). The more extreme outcomes includes falls, weight gain, hallucinations as well as kidney failure in the long run especially due to extreme dehydration.
These negative outcomes, among others especially economic ones, are highly likely to impact people in many remote areas of third world countries and even some cities, who have limited or no access to clean water. This is especially worsened by contamination, with Daigle (2016) indicating that ‘at least 140 million people in Asia are drinking arsenic-contaminated water’. This has led to serious health issues and even death from poisoning via heavy metals, chemicals and bacterial infections. Further, many small villages cannot tell the difference between suitable water for human consumption and contaminated water because they lack the technology or the means to tell the difference and even if they did, they could not do much about it. This is alongside problems of costs associated with technologies for enhancing water supply, insufficient and delayed investment in urban water-treatment facilities as well as continued population growth, which has left Earth’s limited freshwater resources scarce and scarcer (Luthra and Kundu, 2013).
Luckily, the Earth’s oceans also offer an alternative in sea water, which can be processed to become clean drinking water through various desalination processes including distillation which can completely change salty sea water into fresh drinking water. This is affirmed by Lopez-Gunn and Llamas (2008) who profess the value of technological innovations and scientiﬁc knowledge in finding viable solutions to water crises. The associated measures include salt water desalination, the utilization of virtual water and water footprint measures as well as remote sensing and geographic information systems and groundwater pumping using various technologies. Others include the use of various wastewater management technologies as well as water reclamation and recycling technologies which are, and will continue to be pivotal in solving current and future water crises. Given the vastness of water resources represented by the Earth’s oceans, which cover over half of the earth, a focus on desalination is appropriate considering the amount of drinkable water that could be converted from all that salty sea water.
The desalination process, according to Mercer (2008) involves ‘removing salt from sea water, brackish groundwater or surface water, either by distillation or membrane technologies to make it useable either for irrigating crops for particular industrial processes or for human consumption’. All around the world countries that do not have enough fresh drinking water like Saudi Arabia mainly depend on these two processes to supply households and businesses with freshwater. Though it is possible to convert seawater into freshwater, as stated earlier, it comes with a price, as billions of dollars are spent by countries like Saudi Arabia in converting seawater into freshwater. This is confirmed by Mercer (2008) who indicates that Saudi Arabia’s abundant energy resources has enabled its creation of ‘around a quarter of the globe’s installed desalination capacity’ and as the ‘home to the world’s largest desalination plant at Jebel Ali’. This highlights the reason why hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year in research to find more affordable ways to purify sea water. As such, desalination has the markings of a sustainable supply of freshwater especially if the associated prohibitive economic costs are reduced drastically.
Reverse osmosis is one of the desalination processes that transforms ocean water to freshwater, a process that Talbot (2015) claims is ‘the mainstay of large-scale desalination facilities around the world’. The process harnesses the naturally occurring process of osmosis involving ‘the natural movement of water from an area of high water concentration (low salt concentration) through a salt barrier to an area of low water concentration (high salt concentration)’ (Stover, 2014). Reverse osmosis basically entails pressurizing a salt solution against a reverse osmosis membrane where impurities collect on the side of the membrane that is pressurized while purified water and brine flow through. Talbot (2015) explains that reverse osmosis specifically involves constructing a pipe trench leading to a water source, extremely large concrete tanks where salt water is treated with sand and charcoal before desalination and pressurizers leading to a one-meter diameter stainless-steel pipe. The pipe conveys water into 2000 fiberglass tubes under high pressure where fresh water is produced when the solution is squeezed through semi-permeable polymer membranes, leaving behind highly concentrated brine.
Talbot (2015) asserts that, ‘as water is forced through the membrane, the polymer allows the water molecules to pass while blocking the salts and other inorganic impurities’. By forcing the more concentrated solution like sea water through the membrane water molecules are forced through, leaving all impurities as well as concentrated salt behind. Beside reverse osmosis, distillation is another process used in water purification and basically works by heating up a liquid like water until it starts boiling after which it evaporates. The ensuing vapor condenses in tubes and then collected in containers and pumped to homes and businesses as fresh, drinkable water. This process, like reverse osmosis, is quite expensive even though it can also generate electricity by forcing the steam to move turbines. Hope of better and improved technologies for sea water conversion into freshwater and its application in dealing with worsening water crises is expressed by Stover (2014) and Talbot (2015).
Despite numerous ways being found to obtain steady streams of clean water even from oceans, the fact is that it is not easy. This calls for people to learn how to reduce water usage including taking quick showers instead of unnecessarily long baths as well as ensuring sealing of water taps, among other simple and macro-level water consumption reduction methods. Long-term measures involving utilization of remote sensing and geographic information systems, virtual water and water footprint measures as well as water reclamation, recycling, groundwater pumping and wastewater management technologies, can also be used. Further, given that less than one percent of water on Earth is drinkable, the potential represented by desalination as exclaimed of Saudi Arabia’s, world’s largest desalination plant with a 300 million cubic meters potential annual output, is indeed staggering (Mercer, 2008). Still, risks of pollution and terrorism as glaring challenges in a country’s reliance on one water source alongside high economic costs must be addressed.
In conclusion, water is the secret of life indeed, especially when without enough and fresh water, life cannot exist. This is why we all need to be educated about water so as to enhance ways of how we could make our own fresh water amidst numerous environmental and human-related challenges like climate change, overpopulation and terrorism, among others. How precious and necessary it is to conserve our water cannot be emphasized enough.
- Daigle, K. (2016). Death in the water. Scientific American, 314(1), 42-51.
- ‘Drink Up to Stay Healthy and Hydrated This Summer’ (2016). Tufts University Health &
Nutrition Letter, 34(4), 4.
- Lopez-Gunn, E., & Llamas, M. R. (2008). Re-thinking water scarcity: Can science and
technology solve the global water crisis?. Natural Resources Forum, 32, 228–238.
- Luthra, S., & Kundu, A. (Aug. 3, 2013). India’s water crisis: Causes and cures. The National Bureau of Asian Research, retrieved from http://www.nbr.org/research/activity.aspx?id=356
- Mercer, D. (2008). Desal or not to desal? The desalination debate in Australia. Geodate, 21(2),