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Water scarcity – a problem to be urgently addressed by humankind

“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” Should we really wait until that point? Water – the colourless and odourless liquid which is the very essence of life on Earth – is today in short supply. Water scarcity is a major issue for humankind. We use it every day for drinking, cleaning and irrigation amongst others. We certainly cannot do without this vital element. Water reclamation and conservation are some of the crucial steps that we shall promote. Problems and obstacles do exist but together, we shall give back to Mother Nature by taking care of one of her gifts to us – water.

Freshwater reserves in wait of being replenished; supporting the case for decentralising freshwater stocks

Our efforts towards water conservation are ironically impeded by another natural phenomenon: La Niña. The latter is a condition preventing the formation of clouds, thus causing below average rainfall. In Mauritius, we are already experiencing the combined effects of climate change and La Niña. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that the frequency of serious droughts and extreme weather conditions has been increasing worldwide. It is therefore imperative to address the problem of our drying reservoirs. The statistics below provide a clear indication of our current situation:

It is noted that the Mauritian population has increased from 662,000 to 1,275,820 in 50 years. Our consumer culture has also greatly evolved. Moreover, hotels daily use between 100 and 200 gallons of freshwater per occupied room. This averages out to about 36,500 to 73,000 gallons of water per room per year. Those statistics can surely be numerically lowered with proper water management.

What if our homes could be part and parcel of this water conservation effort? A solution would include turning our houses into “eco-houses”. At the very basics, a simple bucket is all that is needed. On a larger scale, tanks and pipe systems are needed to take advantage of the free rainwater. This water could then be used for everyday tasks. Schools could also be encouraged to have their rainwater harvesting (RWH) tanks. The government could play a role by providing subsidies to all households wishing to implement the RWH system. We could further promote the concept of reused water, via the grey water recycling process, which could eventually be treated to reach drinking water standards. The total amount of collected and stored water would definitely be enormous.

The inhabitants of Poste-Lafayette have recently voiced out that they are deprived of water while 3 hotels in the same region do receive their water supply. The solution to this problem could be the implementation of a single process: desalination – turning salty water into drinking water, via several stages including boiling seawater, reverse osmosis and the physical adjustment of the pH to 7. With 70% of our planet’s water being seawater, desalination could bring major breakthroughs. This not only reduces the demand pressure on the freshwater supplies but is also richer in minerals than freshwater. This “synthesised potable water” could even be stored as reserves for use by future generations during harsh times. Alongside, salt – a by-product of desalination – would promote local salt production, thus reducing imports.

Existing salt pans in the west coast targeted for commercial developments

Everyone has to be involved in our efforts to reduce water wastage and use water more wisely. Informing the public that “each individual on average uses 101.5 gallons of water per day” could well be enough to awaken them. The regulation of water usage can be carried out through media platforms by educating them about the importance of saving water. Students can be taught about water conservation at different levels of the academic curriculum and environmental events. New innovative jobs – in distillation and desalination – would also be created.

“One advice is to be organic. Fertilisers and pesticides used are harmful to our waterways and groundwater. Let’s help the present and future generations to live healthily” such is the advice of an ecologically conscious student. Aquaponics, hydroponics and vertical farming are the doorways to that. By re-circulating water throughout the pipe systems, like with the drip irrigation system, less water is needed. The aquaponics system even promotes biodiversity by incorporating fish culture with that of plants. Besides, those emerging farming techniques are organic and pesticide-free. Research has shown that much of the water used by industries can be re-used several times before being discharged into the environment.

A cyclic process for watering through reused containers for the vertical planting

25 water catchment areas are present in Mauritius. These use the principle of island geomorphology, which is naturally designed for water collection and storage. More water catchment areas can be created. Mother Nature can further be taken as an ally via reforestation. Trees are the best regulators of the water cycle. They equilibrate the air humidity and the rainfall frequency. Their roots allow the soil to act as a sponge, retaining the water, rather than let it flow away freely. We thus need to work in symbiosis with our flora to save our precious water.

Water is a sacred common heritage to be preserved and shared collectively. Putting into practice the above proposed solutions will allow us to move closer to reaching several SDGs – especially the 6, 7, 11, 12 and 13. Water needs to be sustainably used and equitably distributed among our people. While some already have this concept drilled in their mind, others still believe that our water supply is not ending any time soon. This has to change. Water conservation is each and everyone’s responsibility. It is through a shared mission that we can together use water more efficiently. Better awareness and legislation are some of the gateways to that. In the words of Jacques Cousteau, we shall not forget that “the water cycle and the life cycle are one.”

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