Climate change is causing our global temperatures to rise, putting our most visible water sources at risk. From Spain to parts of the African continent, droughts are experienced at unprecedented levels. Madagascar was confronted with a food crisis just last year that left 1.3 million people facing severe hunger following the worst drought in four decades.
The perils of climate change are also threatening the region's water security. Southeast Asia is one of the regions projected to be most affected by climate change. Closer to home, almost 10 percent of Indonesia is expected to experience a water crisis by 2045, with Java – the country's most populous island, already feeling the effects of a water shortage as the nation experiences more droughts.
Protecting an invisible resource
As water becomes a scarce resource in many parts of the world, countries, especially Indonesia, need to quickly and efficiently tackle water shortages. Water plays a crucial role in Indonesia, not only in sustaining the lives and livelihoods of the world's fourth most populous nation, but it also supports its most important sector – agriculture.
Agriculture contributes approximately 14 percent of the nation's GDP and employs one-third of the national workforce. One source of water that is often overlooked is groundwater. Put simply, groundwater is the water found underground and currently provides almost half of all drinking water worldwide and about 40 percent of water for irrigated agriculture globally.
In Indonesia, groundwater is an especially important resource, with 90 percent of households using groundwater as their primary source of drinking water. Despite its increasingly vital role, many still struggle to understand this invisible resource and find effective ways to protect it actively.
Human activities and climate variability are rapidly increasing the pressure on groundwater resources. Today, a quarter of the world's population uses water much faster than the planet can replenish its natural sources, such as groundwater.
This World Water Day, with the theme of 'Groundwater – Making the invisible visible,' experts worldwide have noted that the time is now to protect all our water resources, especially groundwater, actively.
To sustain the world's drinking water supplies, sanitation systems, farming, industry, and ecosystems, we need to utilize intelligent technology to ensure effective water management strategies and, in turn, protect and sustainably use groundwater.
Wastewater management: Reduce groundwater pollution
The first approach is protecting the quality of this water source. Groundwater is especially vulnerable to pollutants from commercial or industrial activities and even urban development. The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources has reported shallow groundwater pollution in all large cities of Java. In Jakarta, 45 percent of groundwater was noted to be contaminated by fecal coliform and 80 percent by Escherichia coli.
Demand and waste production go hand-in-hand – the more we consume, the more waste we generate. Wastewater, when mishandled, can have adverse effects on the biological diversity of aquatic ecosystems and disrupt the fundamental integrity of our life support systems.
Recognizing this, water solutions providers are increasingly applying intelligent technology for wastewater management solutions. Through the Internet of Things, advanced real-time data collection, and sensors, wastewater treatment facilities can operate more predictively, reducing downtime and avoiding serious business and environmental consequences.
These systems can also ensure energy and other resources in the water filtration process are used as needed, achieving greater cost-effectiveness and sustainability, which can be critical considerations for countries like Indonesia.
Water reuse: Protect from overexploitation
Beyond mitigating contamination, protecting against the overuse of groundwater is also essential. Rising demand for groundwater has caused cities to sink due to groundwater exploitation. In cities like Jakarta that have poor coverage from municipal water supply systems, years of groundwater extraction have caused the capital city to sink by 12 centimeters per year in its northern parts.
The need for us to protect groundwater from overexploitation – where we are abstracting more water than is recharged by rain and snow – is more crucial now than ever. We must also protect groundwater from the pollution that currently haunts it since it can lead to the depletion of this resource, extra-costs of processing it and sometimes even preventing its use.
Encouraging water reuse can be an essential tool in diversifying our water resources and reducing our reliance on groundwater. Ensuring wastewater is effectively treated to a quality that makes it possible to feedback into our water cycles allows us to save water in a time of scarcity.
Water treatment solutions now can empower companies to reuse their wastewater, reduce costs, and do their part to ensure that our natural water sources are not unnecessarily exploited.
Energy efficiency: Reducing our carbon footprint
It is also imperative to think longer-term, specifically our contributions to climate change. Climate change can affect the amounts of soil infiltration, and rising temperature increases evaporative demand over land, which impacts the ability of groundwater resources to recharge.
Recognizing the consequences of climate change, countries are already taking actionable steps towards decarbonization, focusing on renewable and clean energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is heartening that Indonesia has set its sight for net-zero by 2060 and aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 29 percent by 2030.
However, water itself actually holds an intrinsic relationship with energy use. Energy is required to make water resources available for municipal and industrial use, from pumping, transportation, treatment, and desalination.
With fossil fuels being the source of most of the energy produced today, water processes are indirectly responsible for producing large amounts of greenhouse gases, consequently contributing to climate change.
One way to reduce the carbon footprint of water processes is by making them more energy efficient. Technology has been a key enabler of energy efficiency. We are now equipped with capabilities to achieve considerable efficiencies in water processes, such as utilizing digital or smart technologies to enable pumps to be more intuitive and responsive to fluctuating demand adjusting water use through real-time monitoring.
Securing water through collaboration
Last but not least, when it comes to strengthening a nation's water security, we should not neglect the fact that water solution providers can help the cause by introducing innovative solutions and bringing their own unique industry expertise to the table.
For example, partnerships have been crucial in supporting local agriculture water supply projects that leverage renewable energy resources, which in turn has helped establish self-reliant, climate-resilient water supply technology and infrastructure across the region. Such initiatives to provide basic water access to more communities will be essential in helping us achieve our goals of strengthening a nation's water security.
This year's World Water Day reminds us of the interconnected nature of our activities and climate change. While many countries are dealing with the water crisis in their own way from groundwater extraction, it is crucial that we collectively work together to manage our global water supply effectively. To create meaningful and effective change, all of us – from governments to businesses to individuals – have a role to play.
Pia Yasuko Rask is the senior director of Grundfos SafeWater, a water access initiative backed by Danish multinational company Grundfos, which is also the world's largest pump manufacturer.