World Water Day 2018: Nature for Water

March 22nd, 2018 by

natural wetlands
It’s complicated.

Water is an indispensable part of our lives. We use water for everything: water for drinking, and also for irrigation to grow the foods we eat, vegetable and animal alike. We use water in most mining and manufacturing processes, and water to generate the electricity for manufacturing. But “Nature For Water” is not immediately obvious, and water is only one piece in a multi-partner dynamic where gains in one area of the water-food-energy nexus often mean losses in others.

It’s complicated, and it’s also amazing. The natural nutrient cycles embedded in creation not only use water as a transport medium and catalyst, but common natural features of our landscapes – wetlands, streams and rivers with their riparian zones and flood plains – increase the effectiveness of natural nutrient cycles by providing active “digestion zones” and reducing the chemical soup in our waterways into elemental nutrients for productive plant growth. This in turn greatly purifies water percolating through them on its journey to the fresh water aquifers underground from which most of our fresh water demand is supplied.

But these natural nutrient removal processes take time, and usually distance, to reduce complex chemical compounds that start the process into elemental chemicals that plants can use. And the closer human populations are to the waterways that carry away their waste, the greater the bypass of the created natural purification processes, resulting in water that is unhealthy to use and whose remediation to a satisfactory quality is increasingly costly.

Population centers naturally spring up near fresh water supplies. Globally, the annual rate of urbanization increase is ~2%, with African and Asian rates of urbanization almost double that. Globally, the loss of wetlands and riparian zones from 1900 AD is estimated at 67%, with the rate of loss highest in undeveloped countries in where urbanization rates are highest[1]. Much of this loss has been a byproduct of ad-hoc urbanization. Adding to the reduced contribution of wetlands and forests for water purification, increased urban populations simultaneously discharge an increased volume of waste and demand an every-increasing volume of water from adjacent sources. Collectively the result is an unsustainable competition for limited water-energy-food resources that come from the land local populations occupy.

Creek flowing through a densely populated neighborhood in a developing country

An alternative to win-lose outcomes of competitive rather than collaborative decision-making is to incorporate Decentralized Waste Treatment systems (DEWATS) in the design of urban neighborhoods. DEWATS allow nutrients to be extracted from waste streams by plant material that can be used as animal feed stock or other productive uses, and the recycled water can also be used, reducing both energy needed for treatment and for pumping the reduced volume of water withdrawn from water reserves.

a Decentralized Waste Treatment system

For a number of years, we’ve allowed ourselves to work and to measure success simplistically, as if we could solve the entire water problem by locally focusing on water delivery – pumps and protected/improved sources; or that we could solve pathogen-waste stream by locally focusing on building latrines and other waste segregation and handling methods. But with transition to Sustainable Development Goals in 2016, we are challenged to look beyond compartmentalized and local affects to include the integrated regional (and sometimes international) amalgamation of raw materials: water, nutrients, land; processed/manufactured resources like energy and other commodities; and human capital and its fixtures. It’s complicated.

Because the solutions are complicated, and competition for resources is increasing along with increasing population, we are compelled to collaborate with one another in an atmosphere of “brotherly love”. This requires trust and diplomacy, and a willingness to invest in one another for their benefit, rather than solely – or even primarily – for our own. It requires us to live out our commitments “with the mind of Christ” (reference to Philippians 2:2-5), purposing mutually beneficial outcomes that parallel the complimentary environments of natural wetlands.

A village water users group

The first step in preparing village residents for their part in the broader collaborative process is helping them establish and begin working together in local water users’ groups. Our experience is that these groups function best when the members recognize one another as “invested insiders”, and where trained local partners like Santosh help facilitate the process. Of course, we continue to nurture relationships family by family through household water purification solutions, sanitation equipment, and hygiene training, but our work does not stop at the individual or family level. Our commitment is to develop neighborhoods, villages, regions, and nations in their capacity to work together for the collective good.

Since our long-term goal is realized relationally, our primary work incorporates but does not depend on the nuts-and-bolts of technology. Our purpose, rather, is to journey alongside dear partners, being disciples together in the hope of increasing collective maturity in “the mind of Christ”, in order to enjoy increasingly God-honoring decisions affecting individuals, as well as local and global communities. And that is NOT complicated, because it is grounded in love.

What can you do to support this year’s Nature for Water theme? Seek outcomes whose collective impact is greater than what each of us can individually accomplish – be bigger together

  • Choose to conserve water by shifting toward healthy whole-foods and limited meat diets.
  • Advocate broad-based conservation efforts to preserve and rehabilitate watershed wetlands.
  • Advocate ecologically sound water re-use initiatives to extend the service use of available water sources.
  • Advocate ecologically sound soil-rebuilding initiatives to reduce chemical fertilizer application and run-off from agricultural production lands.
  • Partner to extend the positive effects of household water purification, sanitation, and hygiene in developing nations.
  • Personally invest in, and extend to others, opportunities to grow in “the mind of Christ”.

[1]“ How much wetland has the world lost? Long term and recent trends in global wetland area”, Nick C. Davidson, Marine and Freshwater Research 65(10) pp 934-941, published 24 September 2014 “There has been a much (3.7 times) faster rate of wetland loss during the 20th and early 21st centuries, with a loss of 64–71% of wetlands since 1900 AD.” “Although the rate of wetland loss in Europe has slowed, and in North America has remained low since the 1980s, the rate has remained high in Asia, where large-scale and rapid conversion of coastal and inland natural wetlands is continuing.”

About the Author:

Global Teams equips and sends field partners from many nations to multiply disciples of Jesus within cultures least familiar with the Gospel.

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