The city of Cape Town is running out of water, the local government has given notice to residents on a cut-off date – Day Zero, when they will not be in a position to provide the critical utility. They have experienced a prolonged dry spell that is seemingly bringing the picturesque seaside city to its knees. We tend to take a lot for granted in this country, especially populations found in cities and the highlands, where water can be easily accessed, whether it’s by a walk to the river or simply drilling a borehole – every apartment seems to dangle this as a unique selling proposition to prospective tenants. A trip down major arteries of the city will have you seen blue colored trucks strategically located near residential estates, waiting for the call to deliver a payload where the borehole pump is broken or the city’s supply has been cut for some reason or other. Provided we have an individual or household mitigation in place, we don’t think much of the matter and have accustomed ourselves maximization of grey water, ‘passport baths’ also known as the sponge bath and the exorbitant attendant costs of the blue trucks. We too are one dry spell away from a citywide, and dare I say national disaster at the rate we are going.
We seem to be innovating on almost all other fronts except that of water and it may be our biggest disservice yet. We know how the precious commodity comes about in nature but are constantly doing the exact opposite of what we should to retain and expand catchment areas and better manage plus utilize that which we can capture. Cities in Kenya have no real water management plan and we most of our surface run-off. The ASAL regions have NGO programs that target specific communities and regions.
“Kenya’s rainwater potential is more than 350 billion cubic meters. If captured and managed, this water is enough to support a population of 233 million people or close to five times the current population of Kenya. The Billion Dollar Business Alliance is the vehicle created by the Government and alliance members to increase per-capita storage from less than 100 cubic meters in 2017 to a potential of 7,400 cubic meters in 2030,” – Maimbo Malesu, World Agroforestry Centre.
What does that have to do with technology? Well for starters, we already know that afforestation and reforestation are at the core of any green agenda, and we have adequate and expanding access to tree science that enables us to know what can do well where and also what it takes to ensure sustainability. We also have the technology through sensors, drones, the much famed internet of things and big data that can assist us in nurturing and monitoring afforestation and reforestation initiatives. Building technology is sufficiently enhanced to allow for the long-term capture, filtration and storage of rain water up and above the traditional digging of lined dams, which are the lazy man’s version of action. Now, don’t look at the Indian Ocean and think…well there’s your source. While desalination is one way to complement sources, it does not come cheap and would also be limited in reach.
The question therefore is, why do we not see more companies and individuals apply themselves more to this end of things? My take is that actions are poorly incentivized. For example, in ‘going green’ conversations everyone is onto solar. On corporate social responsibility, many are still stuck on education and other more visible initiatives; while the individual simply does not care about his or her water footprint – whether the source is paid for or free. What if legislation compelled all urban building owners and managers to channel rain water in season through freshly laid out, built for purpose infrastructure, whose covered canals would interconnect to fill up strategic reservoirs?
We need to act fast and innovate around water; its sustainable creation, distribution and conservation.