Water Security Trust

water security trust

“Lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills children at a rate equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every four hours.”

water.org 2013

It’s hard to believe that water, the foundation for all life on earth and what makes up 60-75% of the human body, may one day become so scarce that it becomes the source of major conflicts among nations. With an estimated 50% of the global population expected to be living in water-constrained areas by 2050, this seemingly limitless resource may become “the next oil”. Currently around 1.2 billion people live in areas of water scarcity. Climate change is definitely playing a role in the fresh water distribution around the globe with record draughts plaguing many areas that are normally relied upon as key agricultural lands.

For those fortunate enough to have sufficient water, the challenge is often about the safety of it. It has been estimated that 3.4 million people die each year from a water related disease. In India, nearly three quarters of all diseases are caused by water contaminants. In addition, access to safe and clean sanitation now eludes around 2.5 billion people. What makes these numbers harder to swallow is knowing that the technologies now exist to solve these problems. Sometimes all that is needed is a clever way to finance them like microcredit systems.

The UNO Water Security Trust seeks growth through investment in companies developing sustainable solutions to provide clean water and sanitation to the billions around the world who desperately need it.

Water Everywhere and Not a Drop of It To Drink
It is ironic that many people suffering from insufficiently available drinking water live near the sea or are even surrounded by seawater. It requires a substantial amount of energy to separate water from the solutes and particles that make it unfit for human consumption. The presence of disease-causing microorganisms and chemical contaminants can make even fresh water non-potable. For this reason, water scarcity has been divided into two main categories: physical scarcity and economic scarcity.

Physical scarcity refers to situations as found in desert climates where there is simply a lack of water in any form. Economic scarcity refers to the situation where water may be physically available in an area but it is not readily available in adequate amounts and in potable condition, due to poor management or lack of necessary technologies. Not surprisingly, they each require a different solution in general. However, technologies exist that can address both challenges.

The UNO Water Security Trust will invest in emerging technologies that can address either or both situations, with the ultimate goal of focusing on those opportunities that can have the greatest overall impact while meeting the other critical success factors of the fund.

Reinventing Desalination

There are many technologies available that can turn seawater into potable fresh water, a process known as desalination. This process has been done for many years, but the opportunity now is to develop systems that are self-sufficient, relying on renewable energy for power, including solar and wind-powered systems. These are game-changing modifications given that often the same areas lacking sufficient water also lack electricity. Given the rapid expansion of solar energy, it is almost hard to believe that solar power represents less than 1% of the power source for the roughly 22 million m3 of fresh water that is produced each day through desalination. Luckily for investors there are innovative companies starting up like Swiss Fresh Water SA (swissfreshwater.com) that have developed compact, solar-powered desalination systems that can change lives of villagers in remote locations off the grid. Clearly, there is a lot of room for expansion of such technologies, especially given the shift away from fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emitting power plants.

Making Water Out of Thin Air

Another technology that is ripe for innovation is the atmospheric water generator, which condenses water vapor directly from the air (humidity), producing pure, potable water. While such systems have been in use for many years, very little has been done to make these systems reliant solely on renewable energy, which greatly expands both their range of applications and potential markets. One company, Eole Water (eolewater.com), has developed the first wind-powered atmospheric water generator that could literally produce drinkable water anywhere. One such generator that produces 1000 liters/day could support a village of up to 3000 people. What makes this technique particularly interesting is that even in the most arid of environments there is some amount of water available in the air that can be extracted.

There Is a Silver Lining

Silver has been used for thousands of years to make water safer to drink. The Romans used to add silver coins to beverages, which helped to kill any organisms causing diseases. Silver is quite an effective broad-spectrum anti-microbial that has seen an explosion in use across many industries over the last 10 years. With an impressive safety profile, silver has been used in many drinking water applications, particularly when the potential risks without it are so severe. Some companies have developed ceramic pots treated with silver that filter out contaminants while keeping the water microbe-free. One company, Agion (www.agion-tech.com) has developed several silver-based solutions for drinking water applications that could be combined with other technologies to provide complete and long-lasting solutions, especially for storage containers and filters which can support the growth of biofilms. In addition, silver can be coated onto water pipes to prevent bacteria-laden biofilm formation all along the water supply system.

This has inspired some entrepreneurs to take action and to develop innovation solutions. One notable example is Sanergy (saner.gy). They are making hygienic sanitation affordable and accessible to developing countries through a franchise system. Sanergy have developed an entire value chain around sanitation from picking up the waste on a daily basis to transporting it to processing facilities where it is converted into energy and fertilizer.

A Global Sanitation Crisis

It might surprise some to know that over 2.5 billion people still don’t have access to toilet facilities. A recent United Nations report reveals that more people have access to a mobile telephone than to a toilet. This is a huge humanitarian problem. Having access to clean and working toilet facilities is important for the health of the entire community, not to mention individual human dignity.

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