World Water Day 2014: Water and Energy - Twin benefits from UNDP/Coca-Cola projects

22 Mar 2014

The concept of ‘water and energy’ – the theme of key water events in 2014 – can conjure up thoughts of large cooling towers in power stations and the hefty power needs of industrial-scale water-treatment plants. But on a much smaller scale, within communities, water and energy also go hand in hand – as is happening in the community water projects of ‘Every Drop Matters’, an innovative partnership between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and The Coca-Cola Company.

“Solar power is a hugely promising option for pumping clean water from depth in rural areas, where it is too expensive to install mains systems, or where grid power supplies are unreliable” says Dr Andrew Hudson, Head of the UNDP Water & Ocean Governance Programme. “This option is also more sustainable – not just environmentally, but because communities have control over it, which helps build their ownership of the system.” An added bonus is that little water is used in generating solar photovoltaic power, especially compared with the large water volumes used to produce electricity in power stations.

As part of an EDM project in Uzbekistan – where for the last 4 years a new community-water supply model has been tested with local village groups, who decide what is best for their needs – advanced technology is being tested in the form of solar-powered energy-efficient pumps. “Each solar panel and pump set is able to supply around 5000 villagers, providing 470 cubic meters of safe drinking water per day” said Mr Ulugbek Islamov of UNDP-Uzbekistan. “And because the project works closely with government agencies, there is great support for extending the new water-supply model, including the solar pumps, to other communities. In fact, the next steps will be to apply the system to 25 more communities and 125,000 more people in the Navoi and Samarkand regions” he adds.

UN agencies are keen to tackle inequalities in water and energy supplies, especially for the ‘bottom billion’ who survive without access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, food and fuel because they live in impoverished rural areas or in slums. But there are tried-and-tested options available: “We’ve shown in Every Drop Matters projects in Bangladesh that small-scale solutions like rainwater harvesting and decentralised wastewater treatment systems can really work for people in the slums of the capital city Dhaka” says Every Drop Matters Global Programme Manager Bogachan Benli. 

The projects in the Baunibad slum area are installing rainwater-collection systems on school roofs, which rely on gravity, not electric pumps, to take the water to the schools’ new drinking-water taps. The area’s sewer system only served a quarter of the residents, so the small wastewater treatment facilities were much-needed, fitted well in the densely populated neighbourhoods, and have made a big difference in reducing the pollution of local ponds. 

The treatment systems also have airtight ‘bio-digesters’ which produce biogas that local people can use as fuel. “The interesting thing here is that communities have set up bio-digester management committees, and they have already raised around USD 3000 to keep the new systems maintained” said Benli. 

In contrast to Bangladesh, countries in the Middle East have little rain and few water resources, so they face a very different set of water and energy issues. Desalination is often the main source of drinking water. But this process requires a huge investment of energy: 75 Terawatt-hours each year in the world as whole – which is more than the total amount of electricity that Switzerland generates every year. On this scale then, it is clear that saving water also saves energy.

In the United Arab Emirates, water use per person is very high (some studies estimate 550 litres/day, or up to three times the global average). This demands large amounts of electricity for desalination. Saving water is therefore the main focus of Every Drop Matters projects in the country. 

Large-scale awareness-raising campaigns to promote water conservation have been run by the Emirates Environmental Group. These campaigns have reached over 200 businesses and more than 2000 university students and schoolchildren. They involved many approaches, ranging from workshops for schools, teachers, colleges and businesses, to environmental drawing competitions for schoolchildren and public-speaking competitions between schools and between colleges. 

In addition, community lectures, public events and social media reached more than 10,000 other people. “These projects have been very successful in reaching many thousands of people with messages on saving water, which exactly aligns with The Coca-Cola Company’s mission to encourage the responsible use of water” said Dr Kadri Ozen, Public Affairs Director, Coca-Cola Eurasia and Africa Group.