Global group seeks sustainable water solutions to improve human health
Rabi Mohtar, Ph.D., professor in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering and the Zachry Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, as well as a Senior Advisor for Resource Nexus in the Texas A&M Energy Institute, has a passion for meeting challenges to basic human needs like water, energy and food.
He founded the Texas A&M Water-Energy-Food, WEF, Nexus Research Group in 2014 and the Texas A&M Water-Energy-Food Nexus Initiative in 2015 with the hope of making local and global impacts in these critical areas.
Now, he is adding human health outcomes to the equation – joining forces as part of a new collaborative effort: The Global Center on Climate Change, Water, Energy, Food and Health Systems, WEFH, will address the impacts of climate change in vulnerable communities in the Azraq Basin in Jordan. Mohtar and his collaborators at Texas A&M will play an important role helping researchers develop evidence-based approaches to provide safe drinking and cooking water in ways that can be scaled up globally.
“This is an opportunity to expand on our existing research and learn how resources management solutions can better inform stakeholder decision making,” Mohtar said. “Adding human health outcomes as an impact component is incredibly important for our ability to understand and assess how improved access to quality water, food and energy can improve health outcomes.”
The Texas A&M WEF Nexus research role
The Global Center on Climate Change, Water, Energy, Food and Health Systems launched in mid-September and is funded by a $3.8 million National Institutes of Health, NIH, grant. The consortium includes 30 scientists from Texas A&M University, the University of California San Diego, University of California in San Francisco, University of Jordan, Hashemite University, The Royal Science Society in Jordan, and six Jordanian community organizations to target rural and refugee communities in the most water-deprived areas of Jordan.
The Global Center on Climate Change, Water, Energy, Food and Health Systems is led by the University of California San Diego Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science and supported by an international consortium of universities and community organizations.
The effort is led by principal investigator, Wael Al-Delaimy, M.D., Ph.D., UC San Diego Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health. The program will address the four core elements of the NIH’s investment in climate health research: health effects research, health equity, intervention research, and training and capacity building.
“The Middle East is the front post or early warning of what a climate change crisis will look like,” Al-Delaimy said. “We need to act now through prevention and preparation to support the region to adapt and for us to learn from it to prepare the most vulnerable communities locally and globally.”
Mohtar and the Texas A&M WEF Nexus will lead the research component of the project. He will collaborate with Bassel Daher, Ph.D., and Konstantinos Pappas, Ph.D., both in the Texas A&M Energy Institute.
Solutions for water scarcity
Jordan has one of the lowest water access rankings in the world.
UNICEF reported that access to potable water is limited to once per week in urban areas and less than once every two weeks in rural areas. The frequency of available drinking water is even lower during the summertime.
Within the country, the most water-deprived communities are in the northeast region of Mafraq’s Azraq Basin, which is also home to approximately 120,000 resettled Syrian refugees who are dependent on water resources.
Strained water supplies are direct impacts of climate change as rising temperatures and lack of precipitation have depleted water resources and contributed to increased water salinity, which is closely associated with adverse health outcomes such as hypertension. The lack of water in Jordan is expected to worsen as the frequency and severity of droughts increase, exacerbating Jordan’s inability to grow crops and requiring more energy-resources to address water scarcity.
Mohtar said he is excited to see that more than a decade of foundational research work by Texas A&M’s WEF Nexus Research Group and the WEF Nexus initiative will be utilized by an international partnership to solve such an important global crisis.
“Research will drive all the other components of this effort,” he said. “This is very exciting because what we are doing is built on years of leadership by Texas A&M and years of investment in Texas A&M WEF Nexus research. That research has involved a lot of faculty and students and former students, and now we have this opportunity to expand that work on a collaborative project dedicated to sustainable solutions for a humanitarian crisis.”
Texas: Test bed for global water scarcity solutions
The project aims to design models and tools to improve health outcomes through interventions across the water-energy-food-health systems. Within that goal, the team will engage with stakeholders to identify key interconnections related to climate change to understand the trade-offs associated with different decisions.
Secondly, researchers will develop a quantitative scenario-based analysis water-energy-food-health nexus tool to evaluate these tradeoffs within criteria, including health, economic or environmental impacts. Evaluations will be based on local conditions where various interventions, like desalination facilities and other infrastructure, including sustainable energy generation like solar, might be employed as part of a solution.
Researchers will then implement community-level interventions to increase access to potable water to prevent illnesses. Data from those interventions will be translated by the water-energy-food-health nexus tool into quantifiable outcomes that are sustainable within the impact criteria.
An assessment of the immediate health and economic benefits of each intervention will follow and investigate potential for scaling up the interventions for future implementation across a broader population.
Mohtar said there are many lessons learned by Texas A&M AgriLife Research projects focused on water scarcity in Texas that translate globally. Declining water availability and increased competition for the resource from municipalities, industry and agriculture in a growing state have made Texas a “test bed” for managing water in innovative and synergistic ways.
Including human health into modeling data is an exciting addition to these nexus tools, he said. To this point, researchers have limited success in quantifying the impacts of water scarcity and food and energy access can have on human health.
“It is exciting that what we have been doing for decades in Texas relates to potential solutions around the world,” Mohtar said.
This article was written by Adam Russell and first appeared at https://today.tamu.edu/2023/11/01/texas-am-water-energy-food-nexus-helps-tackle-water-scarcity/