Nearly a billion people around the world do not have access to clean and safe water with the majority of those people residing in developing countries. The water crisis in third world countries is severe – more than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. Nearly all of those deaths, 99 percent, occur in the developing world. Many initiatives and non-profit organizations such as water.org, The Water Project, and WaterAid are working to improve access to clean, safe water in the world’s poorest communities, but it is not enough. Recognizing the necessity for a new solution to water scarcity, the WATERBIOTECH project was created. The concept of the European Union funded initiative is to identify the vital role of biotechnology in water treatment and manage the water scarcity challenge in developing countries.
According to the WATERBIOTECH initiative, biotechnology can be utilized using natural processes of plants or micro-organisms that have the capability to detoxify contaminants in water, soils, sediments, etc. The solution to resolving water scarcity combines the ability to recycle and reuse wastewater and efficient use of available safe water sources. Solving the problem using existing water treatment processes is both financially unfeasible and unsustainable – therefore, biotechnology proposes a practical solution for water treatment technologies. The novel biotechnologies proposed by WATERBIOTECH will “help treat specific pollutants such as pathogens, heavy metals and xenobiotics, and reduce contamination to the aquatic environment through the use of reed beds. Remediation of waste water will also improve human health by reducing waterborne diseases such as cholera.” The biotechnological water treatment methods proposed to achieve these objectives include Membrane bioreactor (MBR), Bio-desalination, neutralization and heavy metal removal, the nutrient film techniques and the tricking filter. Up until this point, the incredible potential of these functions has not been reached; the issue lies in the lack of information that is known about the benefits of these approaches, as well as the difficulty in adapting the solutions to local environments, such as the underprivileged conditions in third world countries. WATERBIOTECH is devoted to delivering solutions based on both cost-benefit analyses and deep evaluation of the specific requirements in targeted areas.
As someone born and raised in North America, I have been fortunate enough to never experience the impact of the water crisis existing all over the world. Most of you that read this article, requiring access to a computer and the Internet, have also likely gone through life without being impacted by this severe problem. The first step is becoming aware; understanding the implications of water scarcity and learning about how to help. I encourage you to check out the organizations I mentioned above and understand how we can all play a role in creating lasting change for developing communities all over the world.