Views and Ideas

Making water circularity a priority of the state

21 August 2023

by Frédéric YO, ESG Analyst, La Française AM

Water is essential for the survival of life on earth, but under the pressures of population growth and climate change, freshwater resources are becoming scarce. More than 2.3 billion people live in countries subject to water stress (when demand exceeds available resources), amounting to more than a third of the world's population. Experts predict that by 2025, almost 460 million people in Africa will be living in water-stressed areas, while 230 million Africans will be facing water shortages1 . Efforts are being made to implement solutions such as water recycling, but there are still many obstacles to overcome.

Water recycling - a long time coming

Wastewater reuse, also known as water reclamation or water recycling, is increasingly recognised as a sustainable solution to the world's growing water crisis. Rather than considering wastewater as a product to be disposed of, it can be treated and purified to limit freshwater consumption. The treated water can be used for agricultural and industrial purposes or for groundwater replenishment. Some countries have already taken action on a large scale. In Italy and Spain, for example, respectively 8% and 14% of wastewater is reused. In Israel, 85% of wastewater is recycled.

 As a consequence of climate change, many regions around the world are seeing their water resources diminish drastically. The United Nations even estimates that global demand for freshwater will exceed supply by 40% by 20303 . In France, a record period of 32 days without rain was recorded between January and February 2023, delaying the replenishment of groundwater and impacting available water resources. In South Africa, the severe drought suffered between 2018 and 2021, combined with the rise in population, has further exacerbated the crisis.

Despite the many benefits of wastewater reuse, its uptake has been slow and primarily restricted to countries the most exposed to water stress, in other words the most vulnerable. In France, for instance, only 1% of wastewater is reused. This figure is far behind Spain and Italy, which are exposed to recurring droughts. Another obstacle is the stigma associated with recycled-water use, even though numerous reports show that recycled wastewater is not only as safe as conventional potable water but can even be less toxic than certain natural water sources4 . A recycled-water safety communication campaign would be a prerequisite to overcome public objection. However, the primary obstacle to implementing recycling methods is no doubt the lack of technology and expertise in the field.

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