The Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2013 is an international platform that will address global problems surrounding water, energy and the environment. Without water there would be no survival of life and energy is what makes the world go round but a closer look at many of the systems used in today’s world show that you need water to make energy… and you need energy to make water.
Water makes energy
16.1 percent of global electricity supply is generated by hydro-electric dams. This means that without particular water bodies as hydro-power sources billions of people would lose their electricity which would put the pressure on other types of generation. Alternatively, power stations driven by turbines need steam (another form of water) to function. Yet another angle to consider is the presence of off-shore oil rigs. The extractive operations of these fossil fuels that power our lives are surrounded by the ocean and its marine life which function around it. The sea serves as both a source for fuel, biodiversity, seafood and the livelihood of many fisherfolk. Water makes energy.
Energy makes water
The biggest global water challenges spring from the lack of access to a water source or the fact that the available water source isn’t clean enough to drink. The distribution and treatment of water both take energy. If you live in an arid area, pipes and pumps are going to bring water your way. If your water source is contaminated, you will need use an energy source to purify it by either boiling, distillation or reverse osmosis depending on what the contaminant is. Energy makes water.
Safeguarding the Water-Energy Nexus
Once the nexus between the challenges of water and energy is recognized, they can be tackled simultaneously.
Protect water bodies
Water bodies become polluted and/or degraded due to human activities resulting in poor water quality and reduction in flow for dams. Fishing methods such as the use of poisons and explosives tend to pollute the water while fish are being caught. Poorly monitored mining activities can discharge harmful chemicals like arsenic, sulphuric acid, and mercury directly into water bodies and soil which eventually seeps into streams and rivers as well. As individuals, businesses and especially as leaders we have a responsibility to ensure that water bodies are protected. Water bodies are irreplaceable and so vital to our human existence. Protecting them from human destruction should be the highest priority of all nations, both rich and poor.
Enforce Buffer Zones
A buffer zone is a protected area along the periphery of a water body that is off limits to human activity. It is created to allow the undisturbed natural flow of the water and growth of vegetation which tend to be harvested for domestic or industrial reasons. The vegetation prevents the soil from eroding into the water and also filters out contaminants naturally through its roots. Our leaders must create buffer zones around our critical water bodies and enforce them. This will keep both our water and energy source intact for generations to come.
Foster Inter-Country Cooperation
In many cases a critical water body runs through more than one country. This holds true for the Volta (Ghana, Burkina Faso), the Nile (Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, Egypt) and the Amazon (Brazil, Columbia, Peru, Ecuador). The process of ensuring that the inhabitants of all the countries are able to get an adequate water supply, power supply and avoid conflict is a delicate one that requires the consensus of the leaders of all nations involved.
Our water and energy challenges don’t need to overwhelm us. A nexus exists. Let’s safeguard it.