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Water insecurity

February 21, 2019

Water insecurity: Issues and hopeful answers for global scarcity

Any architect, designer, engineer or building owner who’s worked with Sloan knows we make sustainability a top priority. From our water-saving flushometers, faucets and fixtures to our involvement with internationally recognized green organizations, we’re committed to doing whatever we can to leave future generations a healthier planet.

Part of that commitment is reminding ourselves, along with our partners and customers, why water sustainability is so important.

Fresh water is the world’s most critical, most precious commodity. Unlike oil, which could be replaced by many potential energy sources, water has no substitute. If there isn’t enough available, human populations suffer.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening in parts of the world. Here are some recent stories that caught our attention.

Droughts continue to threaten stability

Just last week, the United Nations Security Council held an open debate about global climate change to discuss its concrete impact on peace and security. The Chief Scientist of the World Meteorological Organization said, “Climate change has a multitude of security impacts, [including] increasing the potential for water conflict, leading to more internal displacement and migration.”

Unfortunately, examples of drought leading to conflict aren’t hard to find. Three years of failed rains in Somalia “have decimated communities’ income and livelihood opportunities, and deeply eroded their ability to resist shocks.”

Meanwhile, farmers surveyed in South Africa said 31,000 jobs have been lost since January last year due to an ongoing drought. And water scarcity is seen as one of the drivers of ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

News like this reinforces our belief in the importance of all sustainability measures, not just water savings. Our carbon-neutral products, for example, let our customers offset the environmental impact of their purchases with credits that help plant trees in essential American watersheds—a small but significant step in the battle against climate change.

Supply falls well short of demand

It’s Economics 101: When the supply of a resource goes down while demand rises, prices for that resource will rise. People who need that resource will pay more to secure their supply. Even if it means others get less.

One example is currently playing out in the United States. Overseas demand for certain water-intensive foods—alfalfa for dairy cows in Saudi Arabia; soybeans, tree nuts and pork for China—has led foreign companies to buy vast amounts of American farmland. And agriculture, whether domestic or foreign-owned, can be a huge consumer of fresh water.

This demand doesn’t just drive up prices. In one region of Arizona, agricultural producers have drawn water from the local aquifer below the levels of residents’ wells. Their taps now produce little more than sand.

We’re not criticizing commercial agriculture—feeding people is pretty important, after all. But we do believe businesses should do everything in their power to conserve water and minimize their environmental impacts. Our transparency reports are a good place to start, helping architects, designers and engineers specify plumbing fixtures that make commercial restrooms more sustainable.

Good news from Cape Town

This time last year, residents of Cape Town, South Africa were counting down the weeks until Day Zero—the day, projected to arrive last summer, when the city would literally run out of water. Climate change, several years of drought and poor management had left the city’s rain-fed reservoirs at a fraction of capacity.

The good news is that Day Zero never arrived.

Restrictions limiting residents to 50 liters of water per day, farming innovations and diversifying water supply sources—combined with a winter of normal rains—helped Cape Town keep the taps open. The region is still at risk, but the immediate crisis has passed.

We’d love to see the world’s cities reach more sustainable levels of water use without resorting to emergency measures, and we’re working to make it happen—one commercial restroom design at a time.

Want to know more about Sloan innovations that have saved building owners billions of gallons of water? Talk to Sloan!

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