The thought of trying to sustain life as we know it without fresh water is unimaginable. We rely on it for food production, hydration, cooking, cleaning, hygiene, and even recreation. Water is the very center of life, the lifeblood of anything that walks, swims or flies on planet Earth. And yet, a new report from NASA says we are inching toward a world where fresh water is much more difficult to come by.
This report identified some shocking trends regarding aquifers around the globe. NASA observed thirty-seven of the world’s largest aquifers over a ten-year period from 2003 to 2013 by a satellite project called GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment). The results of this most recent study are sobering. Of the 37 aquifers studied, 21 are being depleted at an unsustainable rate. And of those, eight were classified as “overstressed” in the study, meaning they have little or no water recharging them at the present time. Logic would lead one to believe that, eventually, these aquifers can potentially be sucked dry. And that would obviously spell disaster for all life forms dependent on them.
One important question could not be answered by this study and that is: exactly how much water is left in the aquifers? The GRACE system can measure trends in aquifer size, but not the actual amount of water contained in each aquifer. NASA has been quick to acknowledge that there is a great deal of uncertainty in projecting exact amounts of water contained within aquifers as there is not yet a reliable method for measuring such a variable. However, these study results are still incredibly important as we can see that current water sources in aquifers are trending in the wrong direction.
Where’s All That Water Going?
Well, the water certainly isn’t leaving these aquifers on its own. Each aquifer, depending on its location on the globe, has its own unique story behind why it is being emptied at an unsustainable rate. However, whether it is for mining operations, agricultural endeavors, or sustaining a densely populated community, human activity is to blame for each and every shortage in aquifer resources observed. There’s no way around the fact that we’ve come to rely too heavily on the natural fresh water resources underground systems can provide, and we are now depleting them at an alarming rate.
Residential Water Use
Roughly two billion people around the world rely on groundwater as their source of fresh water. With aquifers currently being depleted, that means two billion people are at risk of losing the water they use for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. The most recent study conducted by NASA showed that aquifers currently being used by densely populated areas are especially being hit hard by unsustainable extractions. With no reliable aboveground fresh water resources, aquifers become critical in supplying areas such as India, Pakistan, the Arabian Peninsula, and Northern Africa with fresh water. In fact, the Arabian Aquifer System which supports 60 million people was found to be the most stressed aquifer on the planet. As world population grows and shifts toward heavily populated areas, demand for fresh water for residences in those areas can only be expected to increase.
In some areas, industry is to blame for heavy aquifer extractions. For example, the Canning Basin on the west coast of Australia is currently the third most depleted aquifer. Curiously, this is also an area dominated by gold and iron ore mining as well as gas exploration and extraction. Mining and fossil fuel extraction both rely heavily on water inputs, meaning these industries stand to remove water from aquifers faster than it can be replaced by nature. These operations obviously take place where fossil fuels and valuable metals are present which is not necessarily where water resources are abundant enough to power the process. In the United States, 36 percent of oil and gas wells are located in areas experiencing aquifer stress and depletion. When industries set up shop in areas where groundwater levels are already struggling, it places all the more pressure on the aquifers supplying fresh water to the area.
Agriculture and Water
Agriculture is another major source of groundwater depletion around the world. And just as areas with heavy populations or ongoing industrial operations are observed draining aquifers, major agricultural endeavors are also observed in close relation to some depleted groundwater sources around the world. In fact, irrigation water for agriculture is the single largest cause of groundwater depletion around the world.
The most stressed aquifer in the United States is the California Central Valley Aquifer where agricultural operations are heavy. Other areas such as India rely almost exclusively on groundwater to feed their crops. Globally, agriculture uses about 70 percent of the world’s available freshwater, and one-third of that is used to grow the grain fed to livestock.
Animal agriculture has quickly become the most water-intensive forms of food production across the world due to the amount of water needed to not only grow feed but to hydrate animals, keep facilities clean, and carry out daily operation. In the U.S., the average dairy farm can use up to 3.4 million gallons of water per day between all of these processes. To put that into perspective, it takes around the same amount of water to produce one gallon of milk as an entire months worth of showers! The meat industry is no better in terms of water usage; the average burger requires around 1,800 gallons of water to produce.
Sadly, it is estimated that as the world’s population grows to nine billion by 2050, the number of people who consume meat and dairy worldwide is only set to increase, putting a further strain on these precious water supplies. As aquifers decrease and groundwater becomes more scarce, agriculture becomes pressed to turn out enough food for the masses, threatening food security and even increasing poverty rates around the world.
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the Drakensberg-Maloti Park, at the headwaters of the Mooi and uMngeni rivers. On route to Pietermaritzburg, the ‘journey’ goes past the Spring Grove, Midmar and Henley dams and through the communities of Mphophomeni and Edendale.
The ‘journey’ ends on Thursday, 14 May at the Natal Canoe Club in Pietermaritzburg, also the starting point for the Dusi Canoe Marathon which each year is bedevilled by water contamination issues. Here they will be welcomed by some of the local paddling community and have a chance to test their arms alongside Dusi champions.
The Journey of Water is a WWF South Africa campaign that highlights the threats to South Africa’s water security and showcases what ordinary South Africans are doing about it. It traverses the full range of South Africa’s pressing water issues, from catchment protection in water source areas – usually out of sight and out of mind – to the myriad of challenges present in informal settlements.
This year’s Journey of Water takes a literal journey through KwaZulu-Natal to meet experts, local landowners and communities as they follow the waterscapes that bring water to our dams and cities. The key message to South Africans is: Water does not come from a tap. In fact, it makes a long and complex journey. This campaign exposes the stories behind that journey.
Among the participants this year are rapper ProVerb, LeadSA’s Catherine Constantinides, vocalists Aya Mpama, Nomsa Mazwai and Louise Carver, and presenters Azania Mosaka and Vuyo Ngcukana.
South Africa’s water security depends on many of the people that this group will meet, those who live on the front-line trying to resolve issues, protect the living landscape and survive in places where water and sanitation is a daily challenge.
Research by WWF-SA and the CSIR shows that 8% of South Africa’s landscape provides half the country’s water supply but these water source areas are poorly protected and at risk from degradation and mining. This research has also identified 21 critical water source areas in need of protection. These are national assets that provide for a disproportionate amount of run-off for the rest of the country and are generally found in the high-altitude escarpment and Drakensberg mountains which receive the most rainfall.
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Ever heard of a floating African city? Now you have.
African architecture is as diverse as the different cultures and peoples that make up the continent.
Islam and Christianity have produced astounding churches and magnificent mosques. The mix of colonial and modern influences have clashed in the urban environment, in some cities economic or political turmoil resulted in an eclectic clash of styles and little consideration of aesthetic beauty, and in rural areas the local environment was often the driver in the influence of design and structure.
Recently, however, something different has sprouted on the continent. There is a new breed of architect whose work is suffused with social responsibility, and the designs that emanate from them are nothing short of genius.
Their structures created are carefully crafted to fit in with the various demands or pressures of modern day society in Africa.
Here we take a look at a few examples of these extraordinary architects:
Diébédo Francis Kéré
Even though he’s had international success and is based in Berlin, Germany, this hasn’t stopped Burkinabé architect Kéré from making waves back home, in Burkina Faso. Founded in 2005, Kéré Architecture is dedicated to supporting the educational, cultural, and sustainable needs of communities in Burkina Faso through sustainable building practices. Using his formal training as an architect, Kéré has developed strategies for innovative construction by combining traditional Burkinabé building techniques and materials with modern engineering methods.
His projects in Burkina Faso are impressive. In the village of Gando, his birth place, Kéré made a great push for education by constructing schools, along with the help of the local community, and the necessary teacher housing, library and wells to support them.
Each structure was carefully conceived to support the learning environment and be as adaptable as possible to the areas geography. Mud brick walls combined with raised tin roofs use material which is locally available and keep the buildings cool and dry. The school library has a roof with traditional clay pots that have been cut in half and inserted in the ceiling, letting in light and allowing air to circulate.
In June this year the “Surgical Clinic and Health Centre” was opened, serving a population of over 50,000 people from the town of Léo and its surrounding communities. In planning for the most sustainable building solution with least ecological impact, the main construction of the centre is compressed earth bricks.
Their high thermal mass capacity allows them to absorb the cool night air and release it during the day, helping keep the interior spaces cool. The clinic also features ten large overlapping roofs that protect the walls from rain and shade the interiors from the hot daytime sun. The vibrantly-coloured buildings are sited around a central outdoor corridor – a friendly characteristic which is important for the success of the centre, as it attracts patients who would normally not seek medical attention.
Kunlé Adeyemi is a Nigerian architect and urbanist – heavily influenced by the fast-paced urbanisation of African cities. After studying at the University of Lagos in Nigeria, followed by Princeton in the US, Adeyemi founded NLÉ – an architecture and design practice based in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
One of his recent projects has focused on his homeland and its fast urbanisation rate. In 2013 Adeyemi completed the “Makoko Floating School”, a prototype floating structure, built for the water community of Makoko, located on the lagoon heart of Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos. This pilot project took an innovative approach to address the community’s social and physical needs in view of the impact of climate change and a rapidly urbanising context.
At a cost of less than $7,000 the school accommodates 100 students, uses 256 plastic drums to keep it resting on top of the water, and the frame is constructed from locally-sourced wood. Electricity is provided by solar panels on the roof, and rainwater harvesting helps to keep toilets operational.
Adeyemi has been able to produce an ecologically friendly, alternative building system that could revolutionise Africa’s urban water societies. Now, he is taking the project a step further. He is now looking to expand on his pilot and create a group of floating structures in Makoko, allowing its estimated 250,000 inhabitants better access to sanitation, fresh water and waste disposal.
Another notable Adeyemi project is the community-built Chicoco radio, in Port Harcourt. The radio station is a floating media platform that provides a voice to 480,000 residents of Port Harcourt’s waterfront slums which line the creeks fringing the city. The governor plans to demolish them all. Not only is the innovative design sustainable and resistant to flooding, but the architecture has also merged with media to become a platform for modern communication and civic participation.
Zimbabwean architect Mick Pearce is dedicated to designing low maintenance buildings with low running costs, using renewable energy systems. His aim is to ensure buildings are suited to their natural environment and the people who use them. Over the past 20 years his work has focused heavily on bio-mimicry – an the imitation of natural processes and the use of natural materials.
One of his most famous examples is the Eastgate Centre in Harare. Largely made of concrete, the Eastgate Centre has a ventilation system, which operates similarly to the self-cooling mounds of African termites. Because of its altitude, Harare has a temperate climate and the typical daily temperature swing is 10 to 14 °C, making a passive cooling system a viable alternative to artificial air-conditioning. Passive cooling works by storing heat in the day and venting it at night as temperatures drop. Without relying on conventional air-conditioning or heating the building stays regulated all year round, dramatically reducing energy consumption and the building uses 10% of the energy a conventional building of its size would use.
Tsai Design Studio
Architectural genius is most of the time a combined team effort, on the part of a firm or when two firms come together. It would be impossible to have a list looking at architectural efforts linked to social reform or environmental sustainability without mentioning South Africa’s Tsai design studio. Even though it was established in 2005, this small team of architects has earned a number of design accolades and awards for its architecture and design work – though their community work, re-purposing shipping containers is what stands out.
The studio first became famous for this in 2010 when South African shipping company Safmarine commissioned the studio to develop several designs using recycled containers for community projects. The first Sport Centre prototype was built under a month to coincide with the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The centre allowed disadvantaged children and communities to be twinned with a Dutch football club who trained local coaches with football techniques and life skills.
The design included a grandstand seating social area, a sheltering roof and an advertising billboard and movie screen as an extension of the roof structure that folds down vertically at one side. This can be used as a possible source of income for the sports centre or be converted into a movie screen for the children. Since then, the containers have been re-purposed for a variety of other community projects.
One example is “Vissershok primary school”. Sponsored by three South African Companies; Safmarine, Afrisam and Woolworths, “Vissershok primary school” was created. Serving as a classroom in the morning and a school library in the afternoon, the container provides a well planned environment for the pupils. The large roof keeps out direct sunlight and reduces heat while the windows staggered along the sides of the container ensure cross ventilation.
Source: Mail and Guardian Africa
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From growing glaciers to making rain with lasers, what are the innovative technologies that could help us tackle the global water crisis?
It’s estimated that we use 9tn cubic metres of water every year. As the global population grows, it is becoming an increasingly precious resource, with millions forced to walk for more than a mile to collect their daily supply. We investigate the innovative technologies that will help tackle our water crisis in future.
1. Growing glaciers
More than half of the world’s fresh water is stored in glaciers, 15 times more than all of the world’s lakes, rivers and wetlands combined. As a result of climate change, almost every glacier studied by the World Glacier Monitoring Service has been found to be shrinking and meltwater is simply lost to the rivers and sea.
In her book Adventures in the Anthropocene, Gaia Vince tells the story of Indian geo-engineer Chewang Norphel, who lives in Ladakh on the edge of the Himalayas and who has sought to counter the problem by growing glaciers. Norphel diverts meltwater onto little plateaux where it freezes. He has created 10 artificial glaciers this way, which can be used for water in the dry summer months.
2. A bath without water
At the age of 17, Ludwick Marishane was sunbathing in Limpopo, South Africa’s northernmost province. His friend said idly to him: “Man, why doesn’t somebody invent something that you can just put on your skin and you don’t have to bath.”Marishane did exactly that. He researched on his Nokia 6234 mobile phone, eventually formulating a lotion called DryBath. Marishane says that DryBath – a blend of essential oils, bioflavonoids, and odour-eliminating chemical tawas –saves four litres of water ever session, a total of a million litres in total.
3. Ultra water efficient shower
We are all familiar with the moment. You get into the shower, turn the tap, then avoid the water until the temperature equalises. For Peter Cullin, from Adelaide, this is a problem. “Every minute of every day, in millions of homes around the world quality fresh drinking water is lost to the drain from inefficient showers.” To solve the dilemma, Cullin has created his “Cullector Ultra Efficient Shower”, a screw-in device that captures water at the beginning of a shower and feeds it back into the system. If installed in 1,000 showers, Cullin says the device would save 200m litres of water a year. A similar system has been invented by Richard Ogodeton from Brighton.
4. The lifesaver bottle
“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink”, wrote Samuel Taylor Coleridge famously in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. This paradox struck Michael Pritchard while watching news reports of the Boxing Day tsunami a decade ago. Clean water was being brought in on trucks as the floodwater was too dirty. To solve this problem, he invented his “lifesaver” bottle, which uses a pump to force water through a 15-nanometre filter, cleansing it of all bacteria and viruses. Since its launch, the Lifesaver Bottle has been used by hikers, aid companies and the British army in Afghanistan.
5. Rainmaking with lasers
In the 1840s, James P Espy thought burning large fires in the American west would bring rain to the east. In the 1950s, there were attempts at cloud seeding. Now, the idea of rainmaking has returned to the scientific agenda. The idea this time is to fire lasers into the atmosphere. Properly-directed pulses of light have been shown to help ice sublime and vapour condense. The World Meteorological Organisation recently debated the future use of this new technology. One of the possibilities is to use lasers to induce rain at times of drought.
6. The fold up toilet
Along with the shower, the toilet is one of the home’s greatest source of water waste. As much as seven litres can vanish in a single flush and, wanting to improve matters, two students from the University of Huddersfield have inventedIota, the folding toilet. Iota’s design is markedly different to the traditional toilet and, as such, makes more efficient use of water. Gareth Humphreys and Elliott Whiteley, Iota’s inventors, claim that if installed it could save 10,000 litres per person every year.
7. Leak monitoring
Despite all the water wasted inside the home – dripping taps, inefficient toilets and showers – utility companies acknowledge that as much as a third is lost to leaks before it even arrives. Tackling this problem is Zonescan Alpha, a software that pinpoints leaks and relays data back to a control centre. It works by embedding sensors throughout a network and has been successfully trialled by Albstadtwerke, a German utility company, which says it helped reduce waste by 2m litres.
8. Solar powered water purification
Hot climates suffer the most from a lack of water, making the invention of 16-year-old American, Deepika Kurup, all the more intriguing. Hailed as one of the USA’s brightest young scientists, this year Kurup was awarded the US Stockholm Junior Water Prize for her ingenious solar-chemical purification process. This involves exposing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to ultra violet radiation from the sun to produce a photo catalytic composite that cleans water. “This technology is green, safe, cost effective and easily deployable,” said Kurup.
Source: The Guardian