Climate change: Welcome 2023, the year of water |  Expert network |  future planet

Climate change: Welcome 2023, the year of water | Expert network | future planet

We leave behind 2022, a year that has been particularly complex and full of challenges from multiple perspectives, including water and environmental, and we will enter what, for many reasons, will be the year of water.

The year that is ending has made the importance and fragility of this resource very clear to us. We have experienced one of the driest summers on record in Western Europe. In Spain, this has translated into the third driest hydrological year since reliable records have been available. In contrast, in recent days we have been experiencing a series of torrential rains in different parts of the country, but let us remember that in mid-December, the Spanish water reserve continued at 37.5% of its capacity.

This succession of drought and extreme weather events is one of the clearest consequences of climate change, which continues to advance unstoppably. As was made clear at the XV Forum on the Economy of Water, the climate emergency represents a water crisis, which has a clear social aspect: difficulties in accessing drinking water in sufficient quantity and quality have significant effects on health and economic situation of the people.

Drought and water scarcity have become a structural issue that can no longer be addressed by emergency measures

The importance and seriousness of this water crisis is what has prompted international institutions to consider that 2023 should become the year of water, the moment when this resource is finally placed at the forefront of the political agenda. Thus, the General Assembly of the United Nations has convened in New York, from March 22 to 24, 2023, the Conference for Water, which will analyze in depth the application of the objectives of the International Decade for Action on water for development sustainable, when half of its validity period is completed.

A 2022 full of learning

The year that leaves us has been marked by two major crises: climate and energy, both interrelated. The war in Ukraine has aggravated an energy problem that, beyond temporary issues, will remain over time, with the scarcity of water as one of its key components.

In 2022, the severe drought that we have experienced has brought with it a drop in the production of hydraulic energy, with two fundamental consequences: an increase in electricity prices and the use of energy sources of fossil origin, which in turn the environmental situation worsens in a vicious circle that must be broken.

In this context, investing in renewable energy is essential to promote reversible hydroelectric power plants. In addition, renewables are, at the same time, a very useful element to increase the sustainability of some solutions linked to water such as desalination.

With regard to the water crisis, 2022 has given us the certainty of a very worrying reality: drought and water scarcity have become a structural issue that can no longer be addressed with emergency measures. Climate change is aggravating a problem that in many countries, such as Spain, is not new to us, but for which at the present time it is essential to implement long-term solutions.

The recently created International Alliance for Drought Resilience is framed along these lines, sponsored by Spain in the framework of COP27, to which 30 countries and twenty organizations have joined, and whose objective is to accelerate action and help countries to be better prepared for future droughts.

awareness and technology

And, faced with this complicated situation, what are the solutions? The first of them, perhaps the most intuitive, is the commitment to the rationalization of consumption. In this difficult scenario, this is an essential measure, but it will not solve the problem by itself. It is also imperative to work to increase the quantity and quality of available water.

The difficulties of access to drinking water in sufficient quantity and quality have important effects on the health and economic situation of people

Awareness about saving water at all levels (domestic, agri-food, industrial) is a fundamental pillar to face the water challenge. Optimizing the demand for water to guarantee its rational use is essential and must be accompanied by an increase in investment to improve infrastructure, both for distribution and sanitation, so as to avoid losses throughout the cycle.

On the other hand, the increase in the percentage of use of reclaimed water is of great political utility, as is the implementation of measures for the use and conservation of aquifers.

Reclaimed water, that is, recovered and treated to return it in better conditions than it was previously, is a useful tool to increase the availability and quality of this resource. In addition to its potential to increase the amount available, its generalization translates into an improvement in the management of wastewater, which prevents the contamination of soils and water bodies.

With regard to the underground, they are an essential pillar to guarantee the availability of this resource in the long term, since they represent more than 90% of the water available on the planet. Paradoxically, despite its potential as a solution to the problem of scarcity, there is still a long way to go in the study of the quantity and quality of groundwater. In this sense, monitoring systems based on artificial intelligence are a fundamental ally.

Welcome, 2023. We hope that this new year truly becomes the year of water, that it marks a before and after in the care of this precious resource and serves to underpin its future, which is actually that of the entire planet.

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