A Dry Future 1: Irrigation
A study, published last Friday indicates that a great source of conflict in the near future may be the scarcity of fresh drinking water around the world. Other studies conducted in the past decade have come to the same conclusion. Seeing as 71% of the earth is covered with water, you would think we would have no trouble. And since we ourselves are 70% water, you might have thought we would have been more careful. How did we get ourselves into such a pickle? More importantly, what can we as designers do to get ourselves out?
You may be thinking "Yadda yadda. We know already: design washing machines that use less water, and greywater toilets. Done. We fixed it." But it turns out that domestic water use is such a small part of the problem, that working in those areas, at least at this stage, is almost pointless. Even though over 70% of the earth's surface is water, less than 3% is fresh, and between 80 and 90 percent of that fresh water is used for irrigation. So obviously, even if half of the remaining 10 percent is shower water, third world water users are going to run out of irrigation water pretty quick no matter how low-flow your head is.
So the first obstacle to reduced water use is reducing irrigation usage of fresh water. How do we do it? Good lord, we're only writers. But think about this: you have to look at all the opportunities. Saving a gallon of water per year per person in Asia is like saving 3.5 billion gallons today, and projected as 4.8 billion in 2050. Couldn't that much water be saved by designing slightly better bucket systems for getting water from wells? Or pumping water to the fields? What about devices which monitor fields for efficient water usage, and minimize pooling of water where it won't do any good? Or maybe inexpensive sprinkling systems can be used to irrigate the fields in a controlled way, rather than flood style, which wastes water. There are a million different ways that simple designs can influence the world water supply in staggering ways. Look at what Mohammed Bah Abba's Pot in Pot system has done for food storage in Africa.
The important thing to remember, is that this shortage has the potential to encourage bloodshed just as strongly as an oil shortage, and it should be met with as much enthusiasm by the design community as our fossil fuel problems. And, like our oil problems, the real violence won't come to developed countries until long after it rips developing countries apart, so we can't wait to start until we don't have enough water for our lawns.
For more information on global water shortages, take a look at Aquastat, UK Rivers, or this World Food Prize essay on water shortages in Southeast Asia.
Also, take a look at the Google links on the right side for more advocacy groups. >>---->
Go to Dry Future: Part 2 and see how preventable pollution and environmental change can be helped with good design.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team