About 2300 million people in the world do not have access to drinking water.

Juan García-Blanch (centre) has developed a ground-breaking low-cost water purification system. Photo: Prognalia.

Spain, committed to sustainable water management

Our country is a leader in sustainable water management. Many public and private initiatives are carried out to improve access to water resources around the globe.

There are about 2300 million people on Earth with no access to drinking water. ‘This has always been a problem. If you take a look at stats from a few decades ago, you will see that 25% of the world population had no access to drinking water,’ says Juan García-Blanch, head of Prognalia, a company carrying out drinking water, electricity and energy projects in areas without access to them.

For the past five years, Mr García-Blanch has been working on the establishment of a water bottling plant in Bamako, Mali, using PET plastic bottles and biodegradable plastic bags. He is also involved in the development of a leading purification system for water from aquifers, which can eliminate 98 or 99% pollution. ‘We made a presentation for the national water purification agency and they could not believe their eyes. So much so that they have adapted their own master plan for water purification systems to meet our standards,’ Mr García-Blanch explains.

Simple, inexpensive and eco-friendly

The system developed by Prognalia in Mali is very simple: you pour in polluted water and the water that leaves the system shows no trace of pollutants. ‘Two disinfection methods are used: instant disinfection of super-oxidised water and automated dosing of chlorine to do away with residual contamination, permanently regulated by sensors and controls. This avoids the need for a technician to recalibrate the system every day, which makes it ideal for those places where no experts are available. You just have to turn the water tap on and off.

Eradicating cholera

The results have been extraordinary: ‘We wiped out cholera within a 5-kilometre radius, that is to say, the area where the families coming for water lived. Moreover, power consumption is low, for the system feeds on solar energy, which results in reduced costs and savings.

Water, a national priority

The project led Juan García-Blanch is one of the most promising but by no means the only one in our country. Water management is a key piece of Spanish development policies. Furthermore, since 2006, it has been one of the priorities in our international human rights policy.

In 2009, the Cooperation Fund for Water and Sanitation (FCAS) was established with the aim of helping to implement the human right to water and sanitation in Latin America. With funds amounting to 1658 million euro, the FCAS has carried out 68 programmes in 18 countries.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) is brining water and sanitation to 200,000 people in urban and suburban areas in Bolivia, by virtue of a cooperation agreement with the European Union and the Bolivian Government, and a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). AECID will be in charge of water resource planning and management, and the provision of water and sanitation services.

Also, in 2008, our country played host to Expo Zaragoza, a pioneering event focusing on water and sustainable development at a time when they were a growing concern in the international community. The Expo drew attention to such issues as climate change, innovation for sustainability, responsible water management and water as a shared resource.

Charity programmes in Africa and the Americas

Spanish companies are also aware of the importance of water to the development of modern society and of the scarcity of drinking water in many regions around the globe. Accordingly, many firms have implemented support tools for greater sustainability in water management.

FCC Aqualia has joined water cycle good practices with a Corporate Social Responsibility Master Plan that complies with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Aqualia got a distinction at the Global Water Awards 2018 as one of the companies making the most significant contributions to the development of the international water management sector.

In 2015, Ferrovial began to assess its water footprint according to The Water Footprint Assessment Manual (WFM), by Global Water Tool and GRI-G4, about the impact of direct and indirect freshwater use (considering such factors as irrigation, pollution or accessibility).

In 2016, Ferrovial used over 1,000,000m3 of reclaimed water. In addition, the company is carrying out 18 projects in seven countries with 12 NGOs from Spain, which have resulted in clean water access and infrastructure improvement in Africa and Latin America.

Finally, IDOM is coordinating four of seven of the water management and sanitation projects being carried out by Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM) in the Aburrá Valley. Thanks to these projects, more than 11,700 families in vulnerable areas will benefit from water supply.

Water and energy

The utility company Endesa has set a number of water use reduction goals for its power stations and offices. It was acknowledged for good water management by the Carbon Disclosure Project, which rated it as A- and placed it among the leaders in the fight against climate change.

The global energy company Repsol has had an improved water management policy in all of its facilities and activities since 2012. Every year, it drafts a Sustainability Plan that includes environmental standards and practices to be implemented. Moreover, the Repsol Water Tool (RWT) gives a detailed insight into water management and the risks associated with individual facilities. The RWT is so effective that Repsol has already met 95% of its 2015-2020 water management goals.

Reclaimed water and lower consumption

Among the firms in the agri-food sector, Pascual is committed to reducing water use by 20% by 2020. By the end of 2017, it had already lowered consumption by 15.54%. In addition, Pascual is a member of the EnergyWater project, which aims to provide support to the European manufacturing industries by reducing energy use by 20% in water-related industrial processes.

Meanwhile, El Pozo is carrying out awareness raising and lifelong learning programmes for the staff, while promoting improved manufacturing techniques relying on reclaimed water. Moreover, the water used in its plants is then treated to be used in irrigation.

The fruit, vegetable and salad retailer Florette is implementing annual water management plans to minimise the use of water, as well as innovative techniques to save water, such as drip irrigation, sprinklers or programmed irrigation controllers.

In the hospitality industry, NH Hotel Group has managed to reduce water use by 31% by implementing sustainability measures. For more than ten years, this hotel chain has been using eco-efficient technology and water treatment and recycling systems. Also, the NH hotels use awareness raising strategies to encourage guests to save water.