Freshwater represents 3% of the total water on Earth. 2% of this is frozen across the poles and the other 1% is spread out unequally across the planet. Factors such as drought, desertification, river pollution and agricultural overexploitation are worsening this problem in countries such as Spain, Libya and Israel as well as in the UK. Let’s examine some of the proposed solutions.
Libya boasts one of the most spectacular solutions to water shortages in the Mediterranean basin. There the Great Man Made River Project is underway. It consists of transporting 6 million cubic metres of water a day through more than 4000 kilometres of pipes. The water is taken from aquifers of drinking water 100 metres below the surface of the arid Libyan Desert, discovered whilst prospecting for gas and oil. The project aims to bring the freshwater ocean found in the desert (some 10,000 cubic kilometres of economically viable water) to the densely populated coastal areas of the country. The total cost of the project is estimated at 18 billion euros.
Icebergs in the Thames
No less spectacular is the solution proposed by the British company, Thames Water, to deal with the severe drought gripping the southeast of the country. Transporting water in tankers has been ruled out due to its high cost and because the system would not be able to reach the 13 million homes affected by drought. Therefore, towing icebergs from the Artic into the Thames Estuary was suggested. This idea has already been considered by countries such as Saudi Arabia with little success.
Desalinating the sea
Solutions arriving from Spain are not as spectacular, but they remain cutting edge. In Europe, Spain suffers most from drought and has tried various methods, from transporting excess river water to areas where there is none, to building desalination plants to make seawater drinkable. The most innovative proposal consists of desalination plants where natural pressure might put an end to the main production obstacle – the high cost of desalinating water. The process is simple. Water is taken from the sea to areas in the mountains at some 600 metres above sea level. The water is then allowed to pass through tubes and the pressure does the rest. 45% of the water becomes fresh water and the rest returns to the sea at the same pressure that it left it. Thus, electricity is produced and the freshwater is essentially cost-free.
Solutions come in all shapes and sizes depending on the needs. Already, dried water is being commercialized. This product originates from the need to cover the basic water supplies of US troops in the most extreme conditions. Its processes are quite simple. All you have to do is tip some drops of water onto a compound of oxygen and hydrogen molecules kept under pressure until separated, and when they join again, they are suitable for human consumption.
Another method already being commercialized consists of generating drinking water from the air. It is estimated that there are some 14 billion cubic metres of water suspended in the air, and that certain household machines can produce 38 litres of water a day by extracting them from the air.
Sunlight and artificial rain
Other initiatives include obtaining water from the sun’s rays. This means creating artificial rain from the absorption of heat generated by the rays. Scientists from the Free University of Brussels, working with NASA and Ben Gurion University in Israel have designed a system of dark irons to absorb the sun’s rays, using them to generate artificial clouds and rain that is particularly useful for areas in grave danger of desertification.