SEATTLE, Washington, — The international community has been creating innovations that target some of the most major causes of soil degradation. One of the largest causes is salinization. Yet, salinization isn’t only an issue that affects soil quality. It has become increasingly important regarding freshwater resources for communities as well. Fortunately, new water desalination technologies are working to help affected communities.
Each year, millions of communities around the world rely on agricultural practices to sustain their economic livelihoods. A rapidly increasing global population is and has been creating increased demand and reliance on agricultural sectors to feed communities. Unfortunately, continued farming without proper education regarding sustainable land use has led to an international crisis in which thousands of communities are facing environmental degradation and infertile land. Without any viable solutions, many families have been forced to assume their losses and give up their lands and livelihoods.
Salinization in Soil and Water
One major implication of unsustainable land use is the salinization of soil. Salinization from improper irrigation practices causes excess salt deposits to accumulate in the soil, making the land infertile for crop production. As Science Direct explains, “irrigation of dry areas that lack proper drainage” and “excessive groundwater pumping” are two human-linked causes of saline soil.
The 2016 Science Direct Environment and Development report explains that nearly one-fourth of all irrigated land worldwide faces soil salinization. Moreover, as Vice elaborates, if nothing is done to slow this process, “more and more land will be highly degraded, leading to wasteland.” Once the damage goes that far, the land cannot be reclaimed.
However, improper irrigation practices do not only cause increasing soil salinity but they also contribute to an increase in freshwater salinization. According to the World Bank, “increased water extraction, poor irrigation management and sea-level rise” all contribute to freshwater salinity and reduce communities’ access to water resources used for drinking, cooking and farming. The Oxford Academic Journal of Experimental Botany states that at least some degree of water salinization has impacted more than 100 countries worldwide.
Real Solutions Creating Real Change
Soil and water desalination technologies and processes are both complicated and costly due to the nature of the process. Scientific American explains that water desalination uses expensive and extensive amounts of energy and technology. This is one reason seawater cannot provide drinking water. Yet, despite the previous economic and technological factors that made the desalination process arduous, new innovations are paving the way for farmers in foreign countries to mitigate the crisis.
The U.S. funded $21 million in grants to research and develop solar-thermal desalination technologies. This new tech, which helps filter salt out of the water, involves two easy-to-understand components: either a plastic or stainless steel still and the heat of the sun. Through evaporation, water is separated from the salt and is usable once again. Moreover, this new innovation is renewable and cost-effective. So, it is more accessible to communities that can’t afford the costly desalination process.
For Kenya, an African nation suffering from chronic water shortages, this innovation has provided fresh water to 25,000 people a day since its implementation in 2018. Previously in Kenya, men and women had been forced to walk miles to obtain small rations of water. This low-cost, efficient technology is revolutionizing access to necessary resources.
Another advancement in desalination techniques was developed by the United Nations to help farmers affected by soil salinization. The new program, that treats the soil with gypsum, a mineral that neutralizes soil affected by salinization. It has reinvigorated the agriculture industry in countries such as Pakistan. This advancement has helped 50,000 people out of poverty in Pakistan alone and more than doubled the income of farmers.
NGOs and Local Government Support
Nongovernmental organizations have been crucial providers of desalination technologies across many parts of the world. Solar-thermal water desalination technologies in Africa, as mentioned above, have in large part been implemented by nongovernmental organizations like GivePower. GivePower is a nonprofit organization that “provides solar energy solutions to developing regions.” Since 2014, the organization has developed a variety of water programs for water desalination, energy, conservation and emergency services. Its solar farm was the first of its kind in Kenya.
In major cities such as Sydney, Australia, the local government is playing a key role in desalination programs as well. The city government has taken action to develop programs that mitigate practices that contribute to soil salinization. In 2000, Sydney created the Western Sydney Salinity Hazard Map to monitor the hazard of salinity in certain areas and performed a National Land and Resources Audit. Today, these practices have expanded to include the entire Australian government. It emphasizes “research and development, making direct on-ground interventions and developing timely information on salinity and building capacity.”
Because water and soil salinization are multifaceted issues, there is no one solution that can be prescribed as a cure-all. Instead, it is important to recognize the variety of the solutions that are being brought to the forefront of innovation including new technologies, NGOs and government programs are working to reduce the number of individuals impacted by inadequate freshwater and fertile soil. While the future progress of water desalination technologies remains unclear, the range of new innovative solutions continues to grow and flourish in communities that rely on them the most.
– Aly Hill