Addressing water scarcity: Recognise, confirm, recover
As pilots are trained to recover an aircraft from an unusual attitude or un-expected condition, they are inculcated with three words: recognise (the problem); confirm (the problem); and recover (to a safe attitude and altitude). Around the world, the same can be applied to understanding what must be done to reduce water scarcity.
Recognise: Zero Day scenarios will become more common due to widespread droughts, changing rainfall patterns, and shifting populations. These once-unthinkable scenarios are the first obvious symptoms in a fast-spreading, global trend. When combined with the general lack of water conservation, piecemeal planning, poor regulation, and enforcement, and aging or failing water systems infrastructure, extremely high water stress will soon affect more than one-quarter of the world's population.
Confirm: While water conservation and recycling has proven somewhat effective in certain localities, there must be more aggressive efforts to invest in water systems infrastructure and new technologies. A failure to prioritise long-term investment into these areas will lead to increased water scarcity and water stress as we rely on the same outdated technologies that helped lead to the very conditions they are being used to solve. In other words, new technologies, management methods, and ideas must be generated, or outcomes will remain the same.
In terms of defence, such conditions can undermine militaries' ability to provide for regional and collective security. For example, it is believed that logistics-dependent water sustainment for US Army deployedtroops and peacekeepers, will no longer be possible. Other means of supplying water must be used; otherwise, the collapse of stability operations, like peacekeeping and capacity building, will be a dangerous endeavor. Therefore, the US Army recently recommended the use of emerging new atmospheric water generation systems to supply water to forward operating locations located in remote areas.
Recover: Use intelligent legislation and investment, both short-term and long-term, to prevent exacerbation of the crisis. Such efforts must be planned and conducted using systems thinking, coupled with bold leadership. Bold leadership requires that decision-makers be willing and empowered to take actions that risk dollars, rather than people and communities. Too often, leaders are afraid to risk money due to political pressure or fear of failure. There must be a willingness to fail in the efforts to bring fresh, lasting, and viable solutions to bear.
Global water scarcity is a growing problem today, and we must address it with intelligence and leadership. In doing so, it is critical to ensure that our leaders scan the entire environment to ensure addressable conditions are not omitted from the solution calculus. Once a scan of the environment is made, leaders must be bold about the development of simultaneous and parallel strategies to ensure that the failure of one option does not jeopardise the ultimate success of communities and economies. Finally, systems thinking must be used to ensure second and third-order effects arising from actionable strategies are holistically considered. A failure to do so can lead to long-term issues in unanticipated areas. Such unanticipated conditions can cancel out well-made gains in addressing water scarcity.
Water scarcity is solvable, but it requires adaptation. Business, as usual, will result in predictable outcomes and failure. With intelligent and intellectually honest approaches, leaders and managers can recognise the conditions unfolding, confirm and scan the environmental elements to holistically understand the environment; and finally, recover by making bold and informed decisions that anticipate second- and third-order effects.
Dr David Stuckenberg earned his PhD at King’s College London; he is an US Air Force Strategic Policy Fellow and Chairman of the American Leadership & Policy Foundation.
Shannon Stuckenberg is CEO & Co-founder at Genesis Systems LLC a global water technology company that pioneers state-of-the-art digital water technologies.
Dr Tony Contento is an agriculture and water scientist, Director of Research at the American Leadership & Policy Foundation, and faculty at Colorado State University.
This contribution is based on the original article published by the Harvard National Security Journal (2018).
The opinions, positions, and ideas herein are those of the authors alone. They do not constitute an endorsement by the U.S. Department of State, United States Air Force, or U.S. government agency.