Using “Green” Infrastructure to Sustainably Tackle Water Scarcity

Freshwater is essential to life. To highlight the importance of freshwater, World Water Day is annually observed on 22nd March. This year’s theme was, ‘Nature for Water’, which explored nature-based solutions (NBS) to water challenges we face in the 21st century. The campaign was called ‘The answer is in nature’ and it sought to raise awareness of nature-based solutions. At the core of this campaign was to demonstrate how nature-based solutions such as restoring wetlands and replenishing forests were sustainable and cost-effective ways to help rebalance the water cycle, improve human health and livelihoods and mitigate the effects of climate change.

According to Food and Agriculture Organization, water scarcity affects more than 40% of people worldwide and by 2025; two-thirds of the global population could be living under water-stressed conditions. Sustainable development goal number 6 seeks to ensure access to water and sanitation for all. Water scarcity, poor water quality, and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. In Kenya, for instance, low levels of access to clean water and sanitation affect urban slums and rural areas. A rapidly growing urban population has led to overcrowded settlements where residents have little access to water and sanitation services. Children living in Nairobi’s informal settlements are more than twice likely to die before their fifth birthday than those living in other areas of the city. In developing countries, nearly 80 percent of childhood disease is related to poor sanitation, unsafe drinking water and inadequate hygiene.

Nature-based solutions will ensure water needs of a growing population are met while at the same time support environmental conservation and reduce pollution. By 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water. By then, the world population will have grown by an estimated 2 billion people and global water demand could increase by 30 percent. Nature-based solutions recognize water not as an isolated element, but as an integral part of a complex natural process involving evaporation, precipitation and the absorption of water through the soil.

Focus is shifting from “grey”, or human-built infrastructure to “green” infrastructure which embraces greener approaches focusing on preserving the functions of ecosystems, both natural and built, and environmental engineering. Replenishing forests will ensure good quality soil for water to fall onto. Protected wetlands will enhance biodiversity and diverted water will bolster groundwater resources and mitigate flooding down-stream. It is worthwhile noting that nature-based solutions for managing water supply and quality can also play a role in supporting a range of other sustainable development goals.

Managing water supply and quality through nature-based solution supports a regenerative system in which resource input, waste, and emissions are minimized. Ensuring sustainability, human health and security requires a consolidated approach to governing and controlling connected systems. Water security is paramount to sustainable human development efforts.

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