WE are feeling the devastating impact of climate change daily on a global scale and this threat continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. The United Kingdom experienced its wettest February on record last month, with several regions experiencing rainfall more than twice the average.
At the same time, South Africa’s multi-year drought continues to worsen, already having affected food security for more than 15 million people. Scientists have reported that winter has been by far the hottest recorded in Europe — 3.4°C hotter than the average from 1981 to 2010.
Meanwhile, Malaysia has been grappling with both extremes of the water crisis. Last December, severe floods led to more than 10,000 people being evacuated across several states in the country. Such disruption and damage has become characteristic of monsoon seasons in Malaysia.
On the other extreme, the dry seasons have been getting progressively worse, with 2019 marking one of Malaysia’s worst water shortages in history. The climate crisis has certainly exacerbated the intensity and frequency of many of these natural occurrences.
We are seeing floods, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and intense storms affecting development of entire nations and livelihood of millions. We have also seen how it is also responsible for driving the world’s water scarcity issue, depleting a resource critical not only for survival, but for smooth functioning of nearly all industries and sectors.
We cannot look at the climate and water crisis in silos, be it building our resilience to water-related disasters or tackling water scarcity aggravated by climate change.
Climate mitigation strategies are driven by the global movement to reduce carbon emissions, with the aim of reducing the rate of climate change. As part of
its Paris Agreement targets, Malaysia has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 45 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.
One important aspect of this vision is achieving energy efficiency across sectors. A key area is in water itself. Water processes consume large amounts of energy, from supplying drinking water, to irrigation, to industrial processes, such as wastewater and chemical treatment, to heating, cooling and air-conditioning in buildings. Water processes are indirectly responsible for producing large amounts of greenhouse gases, consequently contributing to climate change.
In the digital era, we are now equipped with capabilities to achieve considerable efficiencies in water processes. For instance, digital technology can enable pumps to be more intuitive and responsive to fluctuating demand, adjusting water flow through real-time monitoring. This will go a long way in reducing our carbon footprint.
It is only through collective action that we can ensure sustainable management of water as a shared public resource and by leveraging technological advancements. For instance, smart technology can fill the information gap by allowing consumers to monitor their water usage in real-time, to save more and minimise their carbon footprint. A study by Singapore’s national water agency PUB found that a person could save up to five litres of water a day using smart shower devices.
Countries and businesses today can leverage intelligent solutions to adjust the water flow, reducing excessive pressure and consequently wear and tear of the water pipes. Such solutions have been known to effectively mitigate the issue of water leakages in many nations.
With rapid urbanisation in Malaysia — 76 per cent last year — the landscapes have come under extreme stress. We need to temper the ongoing industrialisation and urbanisation with investment in preserving and restoring these natural landscapes.
This strategy has already proven to be successful in several places with a recent example being China’s implementation of sponge cities. Hundreds of cities in China have adopted the use of terraces, ponds and dykes to retain and slow down the flow of stormwater. During monsoons, these green landscapes actively absorb excess water, which can be harnessed for use during dry seasons.
This year’s World Water Day reminds us of the interconnected nature of the climate and water crisis. While this presents a complex challenge, it also serves as an opportunity for us to address the two biggest threats we face today by adopting a holistic approach.
While the nations’ efforts are increasingly reflecting an understanding of the interdependencies of water and climate, it is important that we remember collective action will be key to managing these global issues. Governments, businesses to individuals must look at ways to drive sustainability in our daily actions.
The writer is group senior vice-president and regional managing director, Grundfos Asia-Pacific region