Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Although 71% of Earth is covered by oceans, lakes, and rivers, more than 785 million people still lack safely managed drinking water today. Significant progress has been made since 1990, with one-third of humans now having access to improved water, but there is still more to do. New technology solutions and educational programs can ensure that people work together to use and manage limited water supplies efficiently so everyone on Earth can have access to safe water.

Icebergs, Oceans, and Our Need for Clean Water

Icebergs could be the solution to the world’s water crisis, according to some. We simply need to float them to the places of greatest need with the aid of tugboats. Icecaps contain double the fresh water of the world’s lakes and rivers, and it all goes to waste when they break free and melt into the salty ocean. With 85% of humans living in Earth’s driest places, many located along the equator, icebergs would need to be tugged a long way. Georges Mougin spent a lifetime trying to make it feasible.

Significant progress towards a more sustainable management of water has been made since 1990, with one-third of humans gaining access to improved water. Focused effort over the past 15 years in the form of a Millennium Development Goal made a world of difference for 2.6 billion people. The Sustainable Development Goal until 2030 is to ensure liquid gold for the remaining 844 million people who still lack even the most basic drinking water service.

People and companies experience water stress in developing and developed countries alike. Heavy industries, in addition to agriculture, are affected by increasingly erratic and changing precipitation patterns. In Germany, all major businesses dependent on boat logistics on the Rhine River suffered in 2018 because of the dry summer and record low water levels. The chemical company BASF stopped production of a particular component because low water levels in the Rhine River were impeding its ability to transport raw materials to the site. The company suffered a revenue loss of €250 million due to the low water in the Rhine. Later that year, the German government even released the federal oil reserves to ease supply strain from low river levels.

Many cities around the world are facing a future with too little water. Cape Town in South Africa is currently the most prominent example. Due to a two-year ongoing drought, the city was projecting “Day Zero” to happen in mid-July 2018 – the day when the water taps run dry and four million people have to get in line for their individual water supply. With improving precipitation situations in May, however, “Day Zero” could be pushed out into 2019. But the underlying problem is prevailing. The Water Dashboard helps the City of Cape Town manage the water situation and keep citizens informed about the local water situation, potential restrictions, and best practices for saving water.

Many California residents were asked to continue their reduced consumption following the 2011–2017 drought, though 70% of the water is swallowed up by farmers. Outdated water rights and regulations are a huge part of the problem, and subsidies encourage mismanagement, including the selection of crops with huge irrigation demands. With river basins drying up, California farmers are drilling wells to suck dry critical underground water tables.

A large amount of our fruits, vegetables, and nuts are grown in California, and food prices are skyrocketing as North America’s food basket shrivels up. Part of the challenge is that consumers demand water-intensive foods. A single walnut needs 5 gallons, or 19 liters, of water to be produced, while one tomato demands just over 3 gallons. Meat takes water consumption into a whole new stratosphere – 1,000 gallons to create a single steak.

In a nutshell, we all play a role in ensuring clean water for everyone by what we serve at the dinner table. But which foods to choose? Governments, food manufacturers, and advocacy groups make information about the water footprint of different foods and beverages more accessible, facilitating consumer decisions.

Like farmers, food and beverage companies consume large quantities of water to produce their goods. Many of them have come under scrutiny as Californians look to reduce water consumption. Increasingly, these companies need to assess their “water risk,” factoring in their manufacturing locations as well as their supply chains. The cost of drought is high for farmers, consumer products companies, and individual residents alike.

Drought isn’t unique to California; many of the southwestern U.S. states face severe challenges. Century-old rights are causing more water to be drawn from the Colorado basin than it actually produces. Even rain-soaked places like the United Kingdom face water shortages due to excessive demand. This places a huge strain on the underlying water tables, which need many rain seasons to replenish them. Climate change is making the odds of that less likely for places such as California.

Smaller water reserves cause higher concentrations of contaminants. Runoff from fertilizer and other chemicals, for example, kills off fish and other wildlife in streams and rivers and can make water supplies less usable for human consumption.

Another extremely relevant, yet little considered aspect is the impact of sea-level rise on the fresh water availability in coastal areas. Rising salty seawater infiltrates lower water tables in aquifers and renders the water less potable. All our water problems would disappear if we could simply tap our oceans. Some coastal farmers are trying to find crop strains that successfully grow in saline fields while engineers look for economical ways to desalinate ocean water. The traditional method of boiling doesn’t easily scale to meet global need. Research continues for new techniques.

SAP is doing its part

Until a major breakthrough in water treatment comes through, or a steady stream of tugboats floats massive ice cubes to the Earth’s middle, proper water and waste management will be crucial to meeting global demand.

SAP partners Britehouse, a Dimension Data company, and Intel are leveraging their technology to help reduce water access issues and improve the lives of locals, particularly in water-sensitive areas such as sub-Saharan Africa. Britehouse has built a bulk water management solution on the SAP Cloud Platform as a means to improve water flow to both crops and people. A Sankey diagram visualization dashboard as well as satellite image maps are used to manage bulk water, predict water flow, and bring alerts when water needs to be added. Also, predicting potential rainfall and how it will impact overall water management is crucial.

“All for Water – Water for All,” is the clear and simple vision that Viva con Agua de Sankt Pauli e.V has chosen for itself. For the past 12 years, the Hamburg-based organization has been working to give people worldwide access to clean drinking water. Sixty percent of its profits go toward international water projects. The Barchecker app, developed by SAP, helps consumers locate trendy bars and restaurants where the cult status water is sold. Reliable revenues from this sales channel enables Viva con Agua to execute on its vision.

SAP Innovation Awards celebrate the achievements of top companies and people across the globe that use SAP products to transform their businesses, drive innovation, and win in the digital economy. One of the 2019 winners was the Belgian company De Watergroep, who worked with SAP software for the early detection of leaks in water tubes, helping to save water.

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Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy