Drought today: causes, consequences and solutions
Today, as never before, there is frequent talk on TV and in newspapers almost all over Europe about droughts and lack of water in agriculture. Since this year it is no longer just a problem in the south but of the entire European continent, especially Belgium.
How is a lack of water possible if we are surrounded by it? What is this problem caused by? And what can we do to solve the problem?
Causes of the problem
Bbefore talking about the causes, we must ask ourselves another the following
How exceptional is this drought phenomenon?
Is it an anomalous and isolated event, or is it destined to be repeated?
Such an intense drought alone could certainly also be a random and isolated event as has happened in the past. However, today’s climate models show us that in recent decades a number of conditions have developed so that these droughts can become increasingly frequent and intense, between 2000 and 2019 the incidence of droughts increased by 29%.
Climate change is therefore one of the main drivers of drought risk, but how? When climate changes and balances shift, all the natural cycles and systems that describe how our planet lives and breathes are altered our planet and therefore air and water can also behave in unusual ways. What has been identified by scientists is an increase in pressure and a rise in very warm air, both of which do not make it rain because the high pressure creates a kind of ’wall’ that makes precipitation less frequent, while the high temperatures make the air able to store water particles more easily that do not precipitate for longer periods, this makes possible a dangerous alternation of periods without precipitation and periods in which it rains too intensely
Potable and human-useable water
Although the earth is about 70% covered by water, only a small part of it is directly exploitable by humans. In fact, 97.5% is salt water and the remaining 2.5% is fresh water (therefore, hypothetically exploitable by humans). However, of this 2.5%, only 1.2% is accessible as it comes from lakes, rivers, etc., while the rest is not directly accessible to us.
How much water do we use?
In the last 50 years, the amount of fresh water we use has tripled to meet the demand of a steadily growing population, and is expected to increase by a further 50 per cent by 2050
As early as 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development warned us that water was already an over-exploited and polluted resource in many parts of the world. Yet even today in many countries demand regularly exceeds the ’sustainable supply’ and on average half of the freshwater withdrawn by humans is still wasted.
But what is all this water used for? On average, agriculture is the sector that requires the most, in fact 70% of the fresh water exploited by man is used for cultivation
Consequences of drought
As the water flow rate of rivers has decreased, the ability of the sea to penetrate the part of the river bed that is not covered by water and is strewn with gravel has increased, this phenomenon which is called in technical jargon ”saltwater in-trusion” makes river water less drinkable for humans and unusable for irrigation purposes as the salinity would create a supply of substances harmful to the plant, leading to the latter’s dying.
Therefore, having less rain and rivers with a lower flow rate means irrigating plants with few resources and with costs that always increase. To overcome the surface water problem, many farmers are exploiting the deep water that rises to the surface through Karst spring, i.e. naturally occurring freshwater springs in areas with not too deep shallow aquifers. This natural phenomenon can be compared to a bathtub; when we turn on the water, it will rise more and more until it overflows. In the same way the water in underground aquifers resurface.
However, this type of irrigation is not sustainable since we cannot do it over time without gradually reducing the amount of water in the aquifers.
What can we do?
The most important thing we, normal people, can do is to be aware of the water footprint of what we consume and reduce the purchase of products and goods that require a lot of water.
Below is a table showing the amount of water used to produce one kg of product
However, it is important to consider that not all water is the same. In fact, there is an important distinction between green water and blue water: green water is fresh rainwater, while blue water is water that is withdrawn from the water supply. An example of what it takes to know this difference is that beef has a larger total water footprint than pork or poultry, but the latter on average withdraw more water directly from the water supply than beef. Beef animals, however, contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than other, which are the reason why rainwater is also becoming increasingly scarce for longer periods
Medium and long-term solution
About Medium and long-term solution there are so many ideas for optimising and reducing water consumption on an engineering level, some of which are:
smart farming: i.e. a type of agriculture that is based on the use of new technologies to optimise the use of water for example through drones equipped with systems that detect climatic and water data, monitoring the specific water needs of plants;
hydroponic agriculture: type of off-farm farming that uses a drip irrigation system, allowing water consumption to be reduced by 70% compared to the traditional system;
desalination and water purification: converting seawater into freshwater through desalination plants by removing the salts present in it. It is still little used today because it requires a great deal of energy and produces a large amount of environmentally harmful waste (brine);
regenerative agriculture: a technique that consists of covering crops with straw which reduces evaporation and keeps the soil as moist as possible.
BeCook!'s actions to deal with water waste
Everyday the BeCook! team do all his best to save water and to respect the environment, contributing to the fight against water shortage.
Here some action we do for this:
using rainwater for the toilet
reducing all water wastage
using a kitchensprayer that use a very high pressure for reducing the use of water compared to other taps
Having said all this, it is now clear that water is becoming increasingly scarce and we must treat it as a very precious commodity. It is therefore necessary to increasingly reduce waste and consumption in general, but above all to take into account the amount of water used to produce the food we consume.