The BBC has suggested that the capital of South Africa, Cape Town, could be the first major city in the world to run out of water, a crisis caused by extremely low levels of rainfall for three consecutive years and the increasing consumption of water by a growing population.
Recent projections estimate that water stores in the city could be used up as early as March 2018.
The government is attempting to address the situation by commissioning desalination plants to make sea water drinkable, water recycling programmes and groundwater collection projects.
Cape Town’s 4 million residents are being asked to use no more than 87 litres a day, whilst washing cars and filling up pools has been banned under water conservation measures.
Water-related issues affect people around the world, with the number and length of droughts increasing year-on-year and nearly 850 million people lacking access to safe drinking water globally, according to the World Health Organisation.
So much of the essential natural resource is wasted, however, due to irresponsible use and failing infrastructure.
According to German environmental consultancy, GIZ, almost 80% of water is lost through leaks in water networks.
Several technology companies are therefore focusing on water management and applying “smart” solutions to water challenges.
CityTaps is currently trialling its system, CTSuite, in poor urban homes in Niger, which installs smart water meters linked to an internet-based management system.
A smart meter dispenses as much water as has been paid for with “water credits”, which users buy via mobile phones.
Users receive low credit balance alerts and if the account is not topped up then the meter switches off the flow automatically.
The system tracks water usage in near real-time remotely via the internet.
Sensors measuring a sudden change in pressure or spike in outflow can help to identify leaks within the network.
In another case, US company WaterSeer is using technology to harvest water from new sources, developing a device that collects water from the air.
Air is driven into an underground collection chamber by an internal fan and condenses in the earth’s cooler temperatures, helped by electricity grid-powered coolers.
Water management is as much about saving on the electricity and chemicals used to produce drinkable water as water conservation.
WaterSeer says that water can be produced this way using less than 100 watts of electricity.
UNESCO has warned, however, that whilst technology can help people use water more efficiently in urban areas, smart water systems cannot provide access to water for those who don’t have it.
WaterAid argued that it is more important to review how water supplies are organised, an issue primarily for governments with support from the private sector.
Mobilising resources and giving attention to water management should be prioritised, it says, though technology can be effective in monitoring water access and existing networks.
Overall though, these measures do not tackle the overarching issue of the effect of global warming on water availability, and so Cape Town could be the first of many places to see the disappearance of this essential natural resource.
Read More: A report by Climate Action UNDP has highlighted how the tiny Commonwealth country of Sri Lanka is re-building its ancient network of water tanks to balance the needs of its entire ecosystem