The next war will be fought over water

Did you brush your teeth this morning? Did you flush the loo? Did you have breakfast? I’m going to assume you did all these things and a lot more. If not, then I hope for your sake and those around you, that you’re still in bed. But did you think about the water you used when doing them?

What role will science and technology have in the distribution of water?

What role will science and technology have in the distribution of water?

If you’ve got an old loo, one without a dual flush, you could be using 13 litres of water with every flush. That’s a lot of water. We’re lucky in the UK to have an almost continuous supply every day of our lives. In some developing countries, the average water supply per person is less than 20 litres, and you just flushed half that amount down the toilet.In many areas of the world, water demand already exceeds supply. With the world population increasing at a largely uncontrolled rate, demand will continue to outstrip supply.  There are already tensions between various countries over dam and water abstraction projects, particularly in Africa. 

Even in the developed world, increasing water demand is a contentious issue, with some short term solutions having adverse long term environmental consequences. Modern technology, like your dishwasher and washing machine, have had a massive impact on the way we use water and the amount that we consume each day.

Our water usage is not the only concern however. Groundwater levels dropped incredibly low in the first part of this year, prompting many local authorities to declare drought in their regions. This was followed by the wettest summer in recorded history. Clearly, these fluctuations are detrimental to water authorities. If you can’t predict future groundwater levels, how can you advise residents on their water usage. Climate change can take some of the blame for this, but it also comes down to the increasing demand of a swelling population.

Is it so inconceivable that in countries where water is not readily available that wars wouldn’t be fought over the ownership of a river’s life-providing waters?

Can science and technology provide a long term solution? Water metering has been introduced in some areas of the UK, and it has shown significant reductions in the amount of water used by those households. Efficient toilets, washing machines, dishwashers and other appliances can also have a big impact on a household’s water usage.

The Scottish Government published the Water Resources (Scotland) Bill in June of this year, and if passed it “aims to cement Scotland’s global reputation as home to a dynamic, world class water industry with knowledge and expertise in water management”.

But what science and technology would this Bill utilise if made law? The Bill talks of exporting water, stating that water is one of Scotland’s “prize resources”. But what are the implications of exporting water? Does the cost involved outweigh the benefits?

On Thursday 6 September, representatives from academia, the Government and industry will debate these issues and many more, in the British Science Festival event, The next war will be fought over water. Join them in Lecture Theatre 1 of the Meston Building at 15.00 to hear what they have to say about the future of water and its political influence at a local, national and global scale.

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