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Analysis of the Problems of Water from Economical, Environmental and Social Perspective

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The United Nations has described food security as “the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.

With the world population continuously growing, the goal of implementing food sustainability and security worldwide is becoming even more difficult. By 2050, the population across the globe is predicted to rise an additional two billion people and during this time the demand for food is expected to increase by 60% according to Fan et al.

Because of this expected increase in demand for food, there is the question whether the earth’s natural resources, like land and water, will be too scarce to feed this drastic increase in population worldwide. This presents society with a massive challenge which will have economic, social and environmental impacts. These three areas together can be described as the ‘triple bottom line’ of food sustainability.

The triple bottom line is the belief that these areas in the food system contribute to one another to help establish a sustainable system in producing food. This is a theory there are various different myths which state that food sustainability and security are not attainable. One of the most discussed myths regarding this, is that trade-offs among the triple bottom line cannot be avoided. Still, they argue that these perceptions are damaging attempts to require a sustainable food system worldwide and that they think it is possible with appropriate planning and knowledge around the area of food sustainability.

This report will focus on the topic of water and how agricultural and industrial processes have affected it in a negative way. The purpose is to give an analysis of the sustainability of water and the issues being caused by water pollution. The problems of water will be discussed from economical, environmental and social perspective, i.e. the triple bottom line.

As the population rises, it only adds fuel to the problem around water security. These next 30 years are going to be pivotal as the demand for fresh water is going to rise rapidly. This is extremely worrying as the stock for fresh water is diminishing and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Globally, our biggest natural resource is water, but only 3% is fresh water. Of that 3%, only one third is available to be used as the rest is either too far beneath the earth’s surface, or else it is frozen.

According to the Global Environment Facility, the global rise in incomes is positively correlated with an increase in demand for water intensive commodities. Water sustainability is also being massively affected by climate change which is causing unease for policy makers in relation to how society is a direct causation to the problem.

In addition, policy makers are concerned with how the agricultural industry is affecting the sustainability of water, as over 70% of the world’s fresh water being used, comes from this sector. This level of water consumption will not be sustainable for much longer, especially as the demand is increasing.

Despite all this, there are various different programs put in place with the aim of making agricultural practises, less water intensive. These programs will be examined later on in the report. This problem of water sustainability is vital and this paper will discuss its importance locally, nationally and globally and how economical, social and environmental aspects affect food sustainability.

Water Sustainability in Cork

Water sustainability in Cork City and county was never huge issue, however, last summer the country went through a drought, which meant that necessary conservation restrictions had to be put in place. At the time, as this drought was happening, the level of fresh water had decreased at the Inniscarra dam which is of great significance to the farms around the county as well supplying fresh water to the city since its existence in 1953. However, this was stopped during the drought as the ESB insured ‘electricity production at the Inniscarra Dam was ceased as priority was given to ensuring the flow of water to Cork’. This allowed the city to avoid many of the problems that the rest of the country endured due to the drought.

The maintenance of water flow from a river can be crucial because if the flow of water became motionless, then this would decrease the quality of the water which in turn would have repercussions for households and businesses which are dependent on high quality fresh water.

This fresh water, along the river lee, also plays a key role in protecting the ecosystems that exist within it which is known as environmental flow. Environmental flow cannot be underestimated as it plays a key role in the agenda for climate change.

If water flow is not controlled properly then this will have consequences across the triple bottom line of sustainability. The ecosystems that are established along the river lee and the Inniscarra dam in terms of upholding the flow of water is crucial to its survival, especially during periods of drought as they would not be able continue flourishing while water flow is stagnant. Socially, the inhabitants of Cork would be massively affected both in terms of their health and economically. This would impact the way local business are run, especially ones that are reliant on fresh water. Farmers across cork would be affected the most as they are heavily reliant on properly managed water flow.

Heineken which is located in Cork City, is an example of a corporation that is constantly engaging in new innovative ideas to try and attain the triple-bottom line of sustainability. Heineken is one of the biggest beverage companies in the world, and for their brewery in cork, they have set up a scheme called ‘Brewing a Better World’. This was set up to try and achieve full sustainability and also show that the myths of different trade-offs at the triple bottom line are not always true. In particular, this scheme pays particular attention to the economic and environmental factors. This paper will discuss the Heineken sustainability report, paying closer attention to their use of water and what different techniques they are using in Cork, in trying to accomplish sustainable water use.

Water is the main ingredient used in brewing beer, with beer being made from roughly 95% water. However, Heineken have managed to reduce this their level of water usage by 20% when compared to different Heineken breweries around the world.

The Heineken brewery in Cork also collaborate with the company Ecolab to help enhance the way in which they use their water to insure that the amount of waste is kept as low as possible. Whatever waste water is left in the brewery is then transported to Cork City’s waste water treatment facility.

Heineken is a great example of a company in cork that tries to promote water sustainability while still being able to grow their market share. It just shows how companies can work to try and attain a full level of sustainability at the triple bottom line without compromising one for the other as we so often see with other multinational companies who only interested about are making profits, even if they are negatively impacting the environment and society.

It is crucial that the cork city council does more to try and promote water sustainability around cork in order to maintain a sufficient level of fresh water so that cork’s inhabitants can lead a healthier life. This will also help keep businesses a float and will ensure that ecosystems will be able to survive.

Water Sustainability in Ireland

At a national level, ‘Irish Water’ is in charge of all WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) services in Ireland. They supply fresh water to over three million people each day. They’re job is to make sure the inhabitants of Ireland have access clean drinking water as well as treating the level of waste water throughout the country.

Karen Gallagher who is a senior engineer at Irish Water who stated that they would be enhancing their water facilities across the country with the goal of creating a fully sustainable water system. In her report for Irish Water, (2015) it examines how they can improve their facilities to produce a fully sustainable water service across the country which would be fundamental for “our health, our communities, the economy and the environment”. This would look at the factors contributing to the triple bottom line of sustainable growth by focusing on the economy, the environment and social aspects that a sustainable water system would provide.

This report also gives a compelling account of what the world would be like if every individual lived their lives like an average North American, and if this was the case, we would need 5 planet earths in order to sustain the amount of water being used. This is why sustainability is so important in guaranteeing we live in the capability of one planet earth rather than five.

The report discusses the framework they will use in order to attain a fully sustainable water system, their goals and how they will maintain this at an economic, environmental and social level. The eight goals addressed in the report are: ‘Resource Efficiency, Climate Change, Habitats and Wildlife, Economic Development, Health, Amenity, Social Impact and Cultural & Heritage’. These eight goals all try to provide an objective in achieving the triple bottom line of water sustainability. Further examination of the report suggests that, within these eight goals, the aim of water sustainability with the use of policies is becoming far more efficient in ensuring water security nationwide while also decreasing the expenses for Irish Water in becoming more economically viable.

The biggest risk to water sustainability in Ireland is the agricultural sector. This means that farmers across the country play a vital role in how levels of water are maintained. This topic is further discussed in the Department of Agriculture’s 2017 report. This report discusses the establishment of a Water Network which they set up to encourage the sustainable use of water by giving advice and leadership guidance. This Water Network is in charge of monitoring water based activities that different organizations uphold across the country with the goal of improving the overall sustainability of water. An example of these organizations are Teasgasc and Bord Bia. The Water Network have a number of directions in which to follow, paying closer consideration waste management, the protection of flora and fauna and the levels of nitrate being emitted.

In general, the Water Network is encouraging the promotion of water sustainability, not just in the agricultural sector, but also in marine and forestry sectors which will benefit the country at all levels of the triple bottom line of sustainability. This report shows how the government recognizes how crucial sustainable water is in providing long term health and food security for the foreseeable future. The projects that have been put into action are in accordance with similar EU schemes with the same focus in trying to increase water sustainability while also reducing the levels of water pollution.

Ireland’s problem with water security will carry on being a huge problem throughout all areas in the economy. In terms of the economic, social and environmental aspects of the triple bottom line, it is vital that the government continues to advance all levels of water sustainability in order to achieve a sustainable future for their inhabitants. While there are schemes already in place, there is still a lot more that can be done.

Global Water Sustainability

Sustainable water across the globe is currently a major concern. Water is the United Nations sixth goal for their sustainable development which discusses how the planet has to guarantee a ‘sustainable sanitation and water control by 2030’. However, presently the world is falling short from attaining this. This is a worrying topic for members of the United Nations, especially for the UN water department who are responsible for creating policies in regards to water sustainability and water pollution. One of the basic human rights as set out by the UN, is access to clean, fresh water. However, this is not the case for millions of people worldwide. “Fresh water, in sufficient quantity and quality, is essential for all aspects of life and sustainable development. The human rights to water and sanitation are widely recognized by Member States. Water resources are embedded in all forms of development, in sustaining economic growth in agriculture, industry and energy generation, and in maintaining healthy ecosystems”.

This quote, from the UN water synthesis report, shows how sustainable water agrees with the bottom three pillars of sustainability and how it is relevant socially, environmentally and economically. This sixth sustainable development goal concentrates on dividing the area into different objectives in which to successfully reach their goal. These objectives will incorporate the three pillars of sustainability and will be shown below:

Water Sustainability and Society

In the United Nations water synthesis report, it discusses how water sustainability plays a significant role in society in ensuring health and wellbeing across nations as well as successfully reaching food security. There is a very strong association between poverty and levels of unsafe water which is a fundamental goal, outlined in the sixth development goal, to provide clean and safe drinking water to all societies by 2030. It is predicted that the decline in disease and poverty due to access of clean water would be so big, that for every one euro investment into water, sanitation and hygiene, would produce a return of euro. This shows that by concentrating on all sectors, sustainability can be accomplished.

Water Sustainability and the Environment

Many ecosystems and the different species within them, across the globe, face major threats as the demand for fresh water increases along with the increase in human population as discussed previously. Pollution is having a significant effect, both damaging the quality of water and also the state of the environment. The sixth development goal discusses how urbanization will play a major role on the level of water sustainability and how it will affect the environment. By 2050, 66% of the world’s population is predicted to live in cities, and how these citizens make use of their water will have major consequences on the environment. This level of urbanization will pose serious threats to the different ecosystems, and their inhabitants, that exist along these rivers due to cities that evolve around them.

Water Sustainability and the Economy

The sixth development goal also suggests the main concern for most countries worldwide is to increase economic growth. And this growth is needed, however by using water unsustainably, it will have a negative impact on economic growth in the long run. The number of people worldwide who are immediately reliant on instant access to freshwater is just under 1.5 billion people ranging across all industries from agriculture sector to the beverage industry. If appropriate irrigation schemes and water treatment facilities are not established then the rate of growth in the agricultural industry, which is accountable for 30% of the workforce worldwide, will begin to stall. This stagnation of growth will be down to how dependent the industry is on clean fresh water as agriculture is both a causation to the problem as well as a victim of it. In addition to this, the use of fresh water industrially in Europe is also on the rise and is now even on the same level as North America. The treatment of waste water can also have industrial benefits as the energy derived from it can be five to ten times larger than the amount of energy used in treating it.

It is clear that society, the economy and the environment are massively dependent on sustainable water. The sustainable use of water at a global level will contribute to all levels of society and will not reduce economic growth like some of the myths state about the triple bottom line. Instead it can actually encourage growth by getting the most out of the amount of water being used with the aid of technological advancements in agriculture and industry. This will have major knock on effects for the health and wellbeing for millions worldwide and will reduce diseases from dirty water and poor sanitation facilities.

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