• B. Daems

Recognizing atmospheric water harvesting within a holistic approach to solve water problems

Updated: Jul 3, 2018

Water scarcity and many other water-related problems are usually the result of multi-layered incidents within a complex ecosystem. The fact that these water-related problems appear in developed areas and nations such as Europe, Australia, Japan and the US shows that too often we think that it will never happen where we live, because we only see one isolated incident.

To avoid that it will ever happen we have to change our mindset towards a more holistic approach that includes all the inter-connected incidents involved. Water related problems never just have one cause, but it is the inability to see the connections of all causes involved that can quickly turn the problem into a disaster.

“The crisis in rich nations is proof that wealth and infrastructure are no insurance against scarcity, pollution, climate change and drought." says Jamie Pittock, Director of WWF’s Global Freshwater Program. The water problems that are affecting developed and developing countries alike are a serious wake-up call to return to protecting nature as the source of water.

Figure 1: A ‘perfect storm’ of drivers of the Cape Town water crisis

In the case of Cape Town, it is becoming more and more clear that the occurrence of a three-year long draught was the cause of the problem, but this meteorological phenomenon was not the only culprit. In combination with several other water and non-water related causes such as failing local water management, politics for power, social, demographic and other infrastructural unpreparedness, the problem became what it is now.

Dr Wade Hadwen, Lecturer and Researcher at the Griffith University Australian Rivers Institute and Griffith Climate Change Response Program tells us that the response to droughts in the developed world does already show signs of a switch towards recognizing the need for more holistic thinking and a move towards utilization of more than one source of water. He also says that ultimately, the key to water security lies not just in a piped network and treatment facilities, but through recognition of the various sources of water available and their inherent qualities like volume, recharge rates, water quality and accessibility.

To have access to multiple water sources holds the key to resilience in rural areas in many parts of the world, but as climate change continues and extreme drought becomes the norm, they will likely be very needed to help those of us living in cities as well.

So, the recognition and inclusion of all possible water sources becomes important when we think about finding a solution to a specific water related problem.

The interest for new or alternative water sources also showed in the theme that was chosen for World Water Day in 2018. ‘Nature for Water’. Behind the title lies the need to explore nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century. With Nature based meaning green and sustainable solutions.

The focus of the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) goes completely into that direction too. Especially goal number 6 which is pleading for the “Access to safe water and sanitation and sound management of freshwater ecosystems” are essential to human health and to environmental sustainability and economic prosperity.

Figure 1.4 Natural, or green, infrastructure solutions for water management across a landscape Source: Infographic ‘Natural Infrastructure for Water Management’, © IUCN Water 2015.

In its 2018 World Water Development Report the UN defines nature-based solutions (NBS) as solutions that are inspired and supported by nature and use, or mimic, natural processes to contribute to the improved management of water. The defining feature of an NBS is, therefore, not whether an ecosystem used is ‘natural’ but whether natural processes are being proactively managed to achieve a water-related objective

It also defines Green infrastructure (1.3.7) as: Green infrastructure (for water) refers to the natural or semi-natural systems that provide water resources management options with benefits that are equivalent or similar to conventional grey (built/physical) water infrastructure. Green infrastructure is the application of an NBS. The terms ecological and natural infrastructure are often used to describe similar assets. Typically, green infrastructure solutions involve a deliberate and conscious effort to utilize ecosystem services to provide primary water management benefits as well as a wide range of secondary co-benefits, using a more holistic approach (UNEP-DHI/IUCN/TNC, 2014). Green infrastructure is becoming increasingly recognized as an important opportunity for addressing the complex challenges of water management and can be used to support goals in multiple policy areas (Table 1.2). If deployed over larger areas, green infrastructure can deliver landscape-scale benefits (Figure 1.4).

The report mentions Water Harvesting as a green solution but notes that some Water harvesting solutions are hybrid solutions that contain built elements that interact with natural features and seek to enhance their water related ecosystem services.

Source: UNEP-DHI/IUCN/TNC (2014, table 1, p. 6).
Table 1.2 Green infrastructure solutions for water resources management
The report lists down all the more traditional and conventional water harvesting methods, like the storage of rain water on surface for future use or the recharge of ground water, there is no mention of atmospheric water harvesting in the report, although there are many indicators that this is a promising new clean and sustainable technology.

The Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management Toolbox (SSWM) is another great online initiative that curates a plethora of tangible tools and resources to solve sanitation and water management challenges. Unfortunately, when it comes to water sources atmospheric water generation is not included in their glossary.

Despite widespread water pollution and scarcity of drinking water, there is an abundance of water around us in the air that we breathe every day.

Green solutions have also shown great potential in urban areas. While vegetated walls and roof gardens are recognizable examples, others include measures to recycle and harvest water, water retention basins to recharge groundwater and the protection of watersheds that can supply urban areas.

As urban gardening becomes more and more popular the use of Atmospheric Water harvesting solutions could find an important application. Urban gardens are popping up everywhere and a global analysis finds that urban agriculture could yield up to 10 percent of many food crops, plus a host of positive side benefits.

Water harvesting solutions that are solar or wind powered are the most environmentally friendly way to extract pure quality water from the air at a low cost. The good news is that these technologies are scalable depending on need and location.


One of the aspects of the holistic approach to finding solutions for growing water related problems is the recognition of alternative water sources.

The combination of all these different water sources could help finding a right solution within the problem ecosystem depending on specific need and location.

Atmospheric water harvesting with AWGs and AWCDs as an alternative water source is largely overlooked.

Atmospheric water generation is a valid solution especially compared to popular solutions like desalination and wastewater treatment with challenges facing cost and complexity of the system. Moreover, with the latter two, a liquid water source is needed, limiting the choice of location of implementation.

Fountair offers a green, clean and sustainable option within the group of atmospheric water harvesting solutions that could be applicable for specific needs and locations within the water problem ecosystem.

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