Water scarcity, defined as the lack of adequate water resources to match the water usage requirements, is classified as one of the most pressing issues of global infrastructure and human development. With 1.2 billion people lacking access to clean drinking water, and a further 2.8 billion people experiencing at least one month of water stress out of the year, the issue of water scarcity is detrimental to economic, political and social aspects of any civilization.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the MENA region, where the exponential population increase, coupled with the increasing unemployment and poverty rates puts the region in a precarious position. Furthermore, due to the unique geographical climate of MENA, water resources are scarce and often shared between various countries. Therefore water provisioning has to be dealt with multilaterally between various countries, such as the supply of water from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers to Iraq, Syria and Turkey necessitating the close cooperation of all three countries. Current efforts to accommodate rising scarcity due to the growth in demand have been focused on increasing the supply of water resources. As a result engineering solutions occupy an important role in combatting the region’s water crisis. There have been a number of different technologies developed in order to battle this crisis. However such technologies are hindered due to their large energy and financial consumption, and their carbon release. This has led to various developments in industrial solutions in order to improve scarcity battling technologies.
Desalination is one of the most popular methods of water supply in more developed countries within the Middle East. However, its large cost and high-energy requirements limit its use to developed countries. This has led to the creation of “Nano enhanced reverse osmosis technologies”. This technology renders desalination more cost effective and applicable to a wider range of countries through combating membrane fouling (decreased functioning due to deposition of biofilms) and improving membrane performance by the addition of nano particles, either to the polyamide top layer or surface of the membrane. However, nano enhanced membranes have yet to reach the deployment stage and are yet to be fully implemented into desalination plants.
Another area of technological research touted as a major source of scarcity relief is wastewater sewage and recycling. Effective purification of wastewater is essential in the face of the crisis, and nanotechnology again engages a major role in ensuring thorough safeguard of recycled water. While mostly applied as process steps as part of drinking water purification, Nano filtration is nonetheless applicable to wastewater treatment, by removing specific pollutants while allowing for important minerals to pass. In short, Nano filtration is similar to reverse osmosis in principle but is focused on removal of larger ions.
One more example of technologies developed to combat the water crisis is “Decentralized Distillation Units”. Decentralized distillation units can provide quick relief for areas that are most severely hit by water scarcity; especially in places were water distribution infrastructure is not fully developed. Using the principles of membrane distillation (using differences in vapor pressure to spread water through a membrane, rejecting other non-volatile constituents found in the water) and driven by autonomous power source, the units can be independent and stand-alone. However when combined with renewable energy, such as solar power, decentralized distillation units provide relief to water stricken regions as well as reduce the country’s carbon footprint by decreasing its reliance on conventional electricity.
The global water crisis has become one of the century’s biggest threats to our world, especially arid regions like the Middle East. It is becoming a major topic for conflict between countries such as Egypt and Ethiopia, and Iraq and Turkey, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. Furthermore, the water crisis affects nearly 1 in 9 people worldwide, and while engineering developments alone may not be sufficient in resolving the global water crisis, they can provide relief in areas suffering from water scarcity. However, even with such technological advancements, cooperation is essential between the constituent countries, both for provisioning and facilitating water transfer between countries as well as technical research into future technologies.
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