World Water Day, on 22 March every year, is putting a spotlight on the importance of water. This year’s theme, ‘Water and Climate Change’, explores the interconnectedness of both.
We talked to our TFFer Claudio Freitas, who was among the 2018 Finalist Teams with IoT Water Control Management. His team from Brazil and Jordan developed a technology to collect data on water usage and quality in refugee camps to ensure safe access to drinking water and empower the local refugee communities. Claudio is currently doing his PhD in engineering education at Purdue University in Indiana. In this special interview, he shares some of his expert insights into global water challenges and opportunities.
Hi Claudio! Can you tell us a bit more about your background and your work related to water?
Sure! I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Mechatronics, a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering and have worked in the industry in embedded and electrical systems for 7+ years.
I have also worked as a researcher for curriculum design and instruction in engineering design in displaced settings such as Jordan, Kenya, and rural communities in the Brazilian Amazon. For over five years, I was involved in technology projects in remote areas where water resources are scarce. The challenges of implementing technologies in such remote areas reach far beyond economic constraints. While the mitigation of local problems is a goal, I think that human rights such as water and food security don’t get enough attention.
I have decided to dedicate my time to developing technologies and research towards humanitarian engineering. I want to empower local communities with engineering and technology education so they can become a part of the solutions development. At the moment, I am working on translating my research findings and expertise into a laboratory in a box called EngStarter. The box is designed for the next youth generations and will enable them to develop their own solutions to address local challenges by teaching the basics of electronics and IoT.
This year’s World Water Day is themed ‘Water and Climate Change’. Why are both inextricably linked?
For most of us, the first things that jump to mind are the changes in water precipitation patterns, sea-level rise, and risk of extreme flooding.
These are undoubtedly the most obvious factors associated with global warming and alterations to the environment and they play a fundamental role in guiding discourses and policies that address climate change.
However, having experienced the water crisis in remote areas firsthand, I believe that we have to widen our perspective and take into account the complexity and diversity of water-related challenges that affected societal groups are faced with every day.
❄️ Currently, 50% of our drinking water comes from glaciers, which are melting at an unprecedented speed.¹
So, what exactly are we missing in the debate about climate change?
The link between climate change and water is an output of decisions that are being taken to fulfil political and economic needs.
I think what is missing is the perspective of the society and the individuals that are faced with the climate change-related water challenges. Decisions for climate and water policies are usually planned way ahead of time by global organisations, institutions or governments. The voice of the individual doesn’t come to play in these decisions.
If we want our policies and global strategies to be effective in the long-term, then we need to give voice to the individuals and become more agile and adaptive to the fast-paced nature of climate change.
Technology is key but how can we ensure it is used to its full potential?
Tech innovations are often presented as a holy grail solution to water security. In a social world permeated by several degrees of empowerment, it seems obvious though, that we not only need new tech but we also have to make tech accessible to the individual—especially kids and youth, who will be our future leaders.
There is still a significant access barrier for tech revolutions for the majority of people and translating scientific knowledge for general understanding is a big task. But not an impossible one. I believe that democratising scientific knowledge will empower many individuals to become agents of change in the imminent revolution to address water security, which would lead to better and more holistic decisions in the discourse of climate change.
Speaking of agents of change—have you come across any inspiring projects lately?
There are so many inspiring projects out there! One that I connect to strongly is a project called Aqualuz. Initiated by the 21-year-old Brazilian Anna Luisa Baserra, Aqualuz is the only technology in the world for cisterns, which only needs sunlight to make rainwater suitable for consumption in rural areas where water is not accessible. The project won the Young Environment Award in 2019 and received funding to apply the model in more regions in Brazil and scale internationally.
💦 Globally we use approximately 70% of freshwater withdrawals for agriculture. However, countries in the Global North tend to use a much lower share.²
Who can and should get involved in the global water/ climate agenda?
Every single one of us needs water and thus we all play a fundamental role in achieving water security. When it comes to solving global challenges, I like to refer to a framework that looks at the three perspectives macro, meso, and micro.
- The key players that need to act from a macro perspective are international institutions and organisations. They can help mediate policies, programs, and discourses.
- From a meso perspective, we need to ensure that societies are empowered with educational, cultural and information resources and that we establish a sense of social responsibility.
- When we talk about the micro perspective, we refer to the actions that individuals can take. A single activist voice (yes, also yours!) or the sum of many single voices can help create change and disrupt old systems that are still geared by economic and political motivation and tend to overlook the socio-environmental needs.