Tackling water security through S&T

Water is a critical public goods problem. For the foreseeable future, it will remain to be. Across the global south, considerable consternation exists over the sustainable supply of water for livelihoods and other purposes. Agriculture consumes copious amounts of H2O. As rivers get polluted and drained of fresh resources, countries across river basins have a litany of reasons to worry. To confront this progressive depletion across Asia and other parts of the world, its critical to look at some of the innovative technologies that can help citizens use and reuse water, in turn, conserving more than expected quantities and leveraging them with care.

One recent scientific development shows great promise – desalination prototype that can be used to separate salt from water before being deployed. The technique, known as electrochemically mediated seawater desalination, was recently unveiled. This new method holds great promise for water starved areas across the world, where billions now reside. Many of these regions have access to abundant seawater but not to technologies that can be used to desalinate water, making it amenable for daily use. Due to this gap, millions of people die across the world from water borne diseases.

To achieve desalination, the researchers have developed a small chip prototype that contains a microchannel with two branches, which contains an electrode that neutralizes chloride ions in seawater to create a electric field that culls the salts to one side, allowing desalinated water to flow through the other branch. Before the product is patented and released, few issues need to be remedied to enable scaling, mostly related to engineering of the product to generate sufficient volumes of desalinated water through the micro channels.

Going ahead, these technologies will become more significant as solutions to confronting the global water crisis that is beckoning. For instance in Asia, the ten largest rivers, including the Yangtze, Mekong, Brahmaputra (which becomes part of the Ganges), and Indus—originate in the Himalayas or on the Tibetan Plateau and collectively serve 47% of the world’s population. Inadequate or unreliable water supplies pose serious and worsening problems in all the countries along these rivers, as do energy shortages, which affect millions of lives across the belt. Clean water deficits have  created local public health crises in all of these countries, laterally imperiling food security as well. A new scholarly symposium deals with the issue of water security in Asia in great detail. 

Governance of common goods like water, energy, and food will consume great attention over the next generation. These issues will demand more energy and cooperation at the international level; clearly, as we are witnessing, the demand structures of multilateralism all point to sustained interest in and towards these particular issues. As emerging powers continue to ascend, their power internationally will be devoted to securing sufficient supply of these goods so as to prevent major dips in their growth trajectories and their preferences and norms will largely manifest through their positions on the governance of water, energy and food at the global level. Given the issues that are bound to arise, it is important to work towards tackling these issues at various other levels – regional, south-south, mini-lateral and non-state. Deploying transnational science initiatives are one such mechanism and one that has promise since it enables us to transcend the contentious politics of these issues, or at least, jettison it for the time being. Moreover, doing so under a development framework also insulates potential cooperation from the security realm, in turn, desecuritizing matters whilst scouring for potential solutions that are scientifically, not politically, grounded.

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