While the world is not short of war zones, the talk for many years has been that the next major war will be fought over water. With a growing population and climate change a real issue, fresh drinking water is already scarce and becoming scarcer around the world. When it comes to practical solutions, there aren’t that many long-term options, except for the obvious: desalination. Now we say obvious because we have practically an unlimited amount of water in our oceans, which take up about 70% of the earth’s surface. But we can’t drink a drop of it unless its treated. So how real a solution is desalination? Let’s take a look.
We’ve all seen the movies, a bunch of people adrift at sea, dying of dehydration while surrounded by water. How tempting must that be to just drink, but in that condition it could kill you. We are not talking about swallowing a mouthful of seawater while getting dumped by a wave, that’s fine, but drinking the stuff when you are dehydrated is deadly.
How does it work?
Desalination involves removing the saline from seawater and turning it into fresh potable water. The two main ways to remove salt from seawater is reverse osmosis and distillation.
• Reverse osmosis
This method involves filtering the water and removing all substances and impurities, as well as the good stuff from your water.
This method involves boiling the water and collecting the salt-free vapour.
While both these methods are effective and will produce safe, drinkable water, they both require a huge amount of energy and infrastructure, making them prohibitively expensive to many countries.
This cost is so big that many countries, while seeing it as their only solution, have held back. There are also environmental concerns, that removing vast quantities of salt from our oceans can harm or kill marine life.
Is it feasible?
Yes, it is. And frankly, more we’re trying to figure out why more countries aren’t already investing in it. It might be the only solution to millions of people dying of dehydration. We already live in a world where close to a billion people don’t have immediate access to drinkable water. Turn that number into three billion, and the dry mud will hit the proverbial fan
Let’s take a look at how many countries are using desalination
There are currently more than 120 countries that have at least one operational plant. This includes The UK, USA, South Africa, Greece, Italy and China to name a few.
The Middle East is pretty dry, so it’s no surprise that they would invest in this option, and Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Iran all have at least one plant.
Israel, in particular has long believed in the desalination process, seriously adopting it as a viable option after a severe drought hit the country in 2008. They now have four plants up and running, and another under construction. These supply the country with more than ¼ of its fresh water. An Israeli company has even been contracted to build a desalination plant near San Diego, to aid in California’s long lasting drought.
Desalination is a solution, but not a major one.
Israeli officials are quick to point out that desalination does not work by itself. In order to conserve water, Israel also embarked on a campaign to fix leaky pipes and encourage water conservation. The country recycles 86% of its sewage water, providing local farmers with half their annual water needs.
Desalination – water for all
As technology improves and desalination becomes more affordable, expect more and more countries to take advantage of it. While it may be prohibitively expensive to build at the moment, the worst case scenario is too ugly to contemplate
As long as the environmental impacts are minimal, this is a very real option to avoiding a world water war.
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