Water scarcity demands innovation and a smart water strategy

#WorldWaterDay offers an important opportunity for us to learn lessons from the global water crisis reassess the true value of water and consider our own contribution to solving these problems.

Cape Town at the southern tip of the African continent is a world heritage site combining natural beauty and a cosmopolitan lifestyle. But Cape Town, where I once dreamed of living, has recently attracted international attention, not for its unique views, culture, vineyards, or wildlife, but for an unprecedented water crisis caused by severe drought aggravated by climate change.

Since early February, Cape Town — a city of four million people — has told its citizens to limit their water use to 50 liters per day. To put that into context, imagine having a four-minute morning shower or running your washing machine once and then not using any water for the rest of the day. Residents are admonished against watering gardens, washing cars, or filling up swimming pools from domestic mains water supply.

According to recent estimates, if the drought continues and the city does not receive its usual seasonal rainfall, the city’s taps will be turned off in 2019 and Cape Town will become the first major city in the world to run out of water. That ‘Day Zero’ — originally scheduled to be some time this year — has been postponed to 2019 thanks to conscious consumption and strict conservation measures.

Cape Town is not alone in facing a water crisis. While nearly 70 percent of the world is covered by water, only 2.5 percent of it is drinkable. At least two-thirds of the global population — over 4 billion people — live with severe water scarcity for at least one month every year. 2.1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe, readily-available water at home while 4.5 billion lack safely-managed sanitation. Emerging countries such as Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India are much more prone to water scarcity. And while the global population grows with a rapidly expanding middle class, so does the risk; climate change, increased urbanization, and poor agricultural practices threaten fresh water resources.

Water, so essential for life, is also vital for various industries such as agriculture, livestock, health, and tourism. Droughts hurt economic growth and they are a major ‘push’ factor driving international migration as well as political and geopolitical tensions.

World Water Day, held annually on 22 March, offers an important opportunity for us to learn lessons from the global water crisis (and the situation in Cape Town), reassess the true value of water and consider our own contribution to solving these problems. This alarming picture of our most precious resource highlights the need for a long-term, sustainable, and smart water strategy as well as conscious consumption.

The picture isn’t all bleak. There are inspirational stories too. While the Negev Desert covers more than 60 percent of the country’s land area, Israel has shown that adopting the right technology and mindset may help Cape Town and other water-scarce locations avoid disaster. As Israeli entrepreneur Amir Peleg says, ‘There isn’t a scarcity of water. There is a scarcity of innovation’.

Home appliance manufacturers are stepping up to the challenge. We have made significant progress towards more efficient and eco-friendly appliances with improved features and performance. We are leading global initiatives while at the same time reducing water footprint in production through smart water strategies. Advanced dishwashers consume only 5.5 liters of water in one cycle saving up to 20 times the amount of water as washing by hand.

At Arçelik, we strive to fulfill our responsibility as a leading company by respecting water and by developing and using the most advanced technologies in our production and products. Efficiency measures implemented in our plants enabled us to save around 1.12 million cubic meters of water since 2011 — that’s equivalent to the daily water consumption of 1.4 million households. We are proud to be identified as a global leader in corporate sustainability and to have been awarded a position on the A-List for climate and water by the Carbon Disclosure Project, one of the world’s most important and reputable global environmental disclosure platforms.

We recognize the need to be a part of the solution and we believe that partnerships and cooperation between the public and private sectors will deliver effective results.

Defy, our leading white goods unit in South Africa, is in talks with the City of Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality on expanding the use of energy and water efficient home appliances and working on awareness campaigns to promote water efficiency. Under a new proposal, small installments can be added to utility bills to expand the use of water and energy efficient home appliances and create value for all stakeholders.

A water-secure future is possible through the development of an intelligent and holistic strategy, innovation, collaboration and raising awareness of conscious consumption.

The downside is huge. If we fail to act soon, Mexico City, Melbourne, Jakarta, Sao Paulo, Karachi, Istanbul, or many other cities we live in might be next.

In the 15th century, King John II of Portugal named the peninsula on which Cape Town sits the Cape of Good Hope because of the great optimism engendered by the opening of a sea route to India and the East. Nelson Mandela, the legendary leader of South Africa, described ‘Table Mountain’ as a ‘beacon of hope’ during the long years spent in prison on Robben Island in Cape Town. Now, Cape Town is transforming from a natural and historic landmark into a city out of water. What the city and its inhabitants are experiencing must serve as an important turning point for us all from which we can draw lessons, develop solutions and build a future full of hope.