Finding Water in Hard Places

Approximately one-third of the world’s population now resides in water-stressed areas and half of the world’s largest cities currently experience water scarcity. Yet despite the global water crisis, many world leaders have failed to prioritise efficient water management. In South Africa, this is undoubtedly the case. As the country suffers one of the worst droughts to take place over the last 100 years, little action is being undertaken by government to ensure water security for its citizens.

The High Level Panel on Water (HLPW), which is supported by the United Nations and the World Bank, consists of 11 world leaders who are striving to devise more comprehensive and collaborative ways of managing water resources. One year ago it called for a shift in the way the world approaches and perceives water in its Action Plan. The plan highlights the importance of  taking a new approach to water management in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Shifting dangerous water-usage trends as a population involves courageous, informed and decisive action. The good news is that more tools and technology exist today than ever before, meaning that there are more ways to measure, chart and understand the world’s water resources. In light of this, we’ve put together three solutions for water generation that water-stressed countries could embrace in the near future:

Water from air

Did you know that vapour can be extracted from the air using machinery, and turned into drinking water? Approximately 13 trillion litres of water float about in the air – that’s the equivalent of 10% of the world’s freshwater lakes.

An Israeli company called Water-Gen has designed special machinery to create and harvest as much condensation as possible. The result is 3,000 litres of clean drinking water generated per day. The company also offers a large scale water generation solution which can be installed on the rooftops of commercial and residential buildings to create safe and renewable, local drinking water reservoirs.

This kind of water generation system is well suited to areas that are hot and humid, such as Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Water from sun

Say what?! Yes, it’s true. Solar generators are able to produce between 40 and 100 gallons of water every day using sunlight, air and salt. A new sponge-like device invented by US scientists uses sunlight to suck vapour from the air, even in low humidity. To do this, it utilises crystalline powders (otherwise known as metal organic frameworks) to leach water from the air.

Here’s how it works:

Small fans blow the outside air over a salty material on the inside of the device unit. The salt absorbs up to 6 times its weight in water. This cycle repeats over the course of 24 hours, generating gallons of salty water. Heat from the sun is then used to bake the water out of the salt and into a closed loop of hot, humid air. The condensed water vapour is collected in a tank, resulting in water that’s pure and safe to drink.

Water from fog

Creating water out of thin air sounds a little too good to be true, but it’s really not. Originally devised in South America in the 1980s, fog catching is a method used to turn fog into water which has slowly started to spread across the globe. This technique requires the use of fine mesh nets which capture tiny fog droplets that form and merge until they hold enough weight to travel down a reservoir.

In the dry and mountainous region of Southwest Morocco, fog catching is being used to collect an average of 6,000 liters of water per day which is then filtered to ensure that it’s safe to drink before it travels through pipelines to reach the homes of a nearby village.

“The fog is pushed by the winds from the ocean and is trapped by the mountains — it’s stuck here — so it’s easy to empty it of its water,” says Jamila Bargach, director of Dar Si Hmad, the the world’s largest operational fogwater harvesting system.

Today her project provides clean drinking water to 500 people living in an area severely affected by droughts induced by climate change, thus proving that a little innovation can go a really long way.