Published On: Tue, Feb 7th, 2017

Unconventional Water Shortage Solutions to Save the World

One of the biggest problems plaguing the world today is the freshwater crisis. The world is in dire need of sustainable solutions to deal with water shortages affecting regions with dry and arid climates. It is a question of survival for all living organisms. Amidst all the proposed strategies by for-profit and not-for-profit environmental organizations, there are some unconventional solutions proposed by forward thinkers which can be used successfully to deal with this problem. These solutions may sound scandalizing at first, but they have proven benefits and can be very effective in overcoming water shortage.

From Sewage to Bottle

Omniprocessor is a technology which converts raw sewage into clean water suitable for drinking and household purposes. The process involves a series of physical, chemical and biological treatment methods which cleans fecal sludge (human excreta and water) by removing all pathogens and making the water fit for consumption. This venture, under the aegis of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, attracted a lot of eyeballs with Bill Gates’ publicity stunt in 2014 where he drank a glass of recycled water in front of the camera. He later mentioned in his blog that the water tasted and smelled just like bottled water. It is particularly impressive that the technology converts waste into something of real value. Omniprocessor is mainly targeted at developing countries which receive less rainfall and do not have enough water reservoirs. This technology is still in its nascent stages as the cost for building the device and making it available in parts of the world that need it the most is very high.

Another initiative called Reinvent the Toilet Challenge falls on the heels of Omniprocessor. This initiative aims to “reinvent the flush toilet.” It has twofold objectives — one being to remove pathogens, the other is recovering resources such as water, energy and nutrients from the waste. The idea is to create clean, stand alone toilets with no connections to electrical, sewage or any water networks.

Entomophagy: Insect Eating

Although people may find it strange, bug eating is a very common practice among many communities around the world. The aboriginal population in Australia and North America have been doing it for years. Research has identified as many as 1,900 species of insects as fit for human consumption. The most common insects found in culinary dishes include beetles, bees, crickets, centipedes and tarantulas. In order to fight world hunger, the United Nations is actively encouraging insect eating.

Insect raising is a cost effective and time efficient process when compared to livestock farming. The reproduction rate of certain insects such as crickets is faster than cattle, they require less space and feed & require far less fresh water than traditional livestock. While it takes about the same amount of grain—to make a pound of bug protein (compared to chicken; beef takes more)—it takes a lot less water! Today, insects form an integral ingredient of many culinary delights because of their taste and health benefits. It has more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, five times more magnesium than beef and it contains all the amino acids required in muscle building and repair.

Apart from the health benefits, bug eating also has several environmental benefits. It has the potential to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 18%. As insect farming requires much less space, about 30% of land surface area used presently for livestock farming can be reclaimed to build housing for the increasing population.

Bug eating is a fast growing trend and it is only expected to get more popular given its efficiency of production and health rewards.

Membrane Filtration

Membrane wastewater treatment is an effective method of treating sewage water, potable water and industrial process water. This method of filtration involves a thin layer of semi-permeable material which segregates contaminants when force is applied. This method removes bacteria, particulates, natural organic material and microorganisms thus making the water suitable for consumption. Reverse Osmosis, Ultrafiltration, Nanofiltration and Microfiltration are four types of membrane filtration processes. The basic premise of each of these processes is the use of a membrane that prevents contaminants and filters only clean water.

Even though there may be obvious reservations against drinking sewage water or eating bugs, anyone with an open mind can weigh the advantages. It is hard to encourage people to buy into the idea of recycled water or insect-eating no matter how good it may be. Educating others on industrial water treatment systems may be a positive step in the right direction. Celebrity appearances, of course, are another good way to shed the stigma. While the adoption of these techniques is slow-paced, the support of organizations such as the UN is increasingly responsible for helping to inspire credibility and generate interest.