Can desalination quench the worlds thirst?

There are nearly 16000 desalination plants operational across the world, spread across nearly 177 countries. Isnt that surprising? It might be, but it is definitely a necessity now with the world population growing day by day exponentially as against the natural resources that are depleting with each passing day.

We all know that nearly 75% of the Earth is covered with water, and yet we are running out of the water, not in just any particular country but across the world. This has forced us to look favorably upon desalination as a solution to the depleting freshwater supply.

What is Desalination?

It is true that Earth has many water bodies, but most of it is in the form of seas and oceans, saline water not good for consumption. And whatever freshwater bodies are available are drying up or falling short of the demand.

There has been a tremendous increase in urbanization, which, along with the changing climatic conditions and poor infrastructure, has resulted in a shortage of water across the world. Almost every country in the world has its desalination plants to convert seawater into freshwater for consumption.

Before we delve into the question of whether this is an efficient solution, let us first understand what desalination is all about.

Desalination, by definition, is the process of removing mineral components like salt from the water, making it freshwater for easy consumption. This is being followed on a larger scale to supply many cities and countries with fresh water.

Pros of desalination

As per the information from the International Desalination Association, nearly 300 million people across the world get water from desalination plants for consumption. The very fact that more than 170 countries out of the 190+ countries have desalination plants is a standing testimony to this. The benefits are, of course, quite a few as desalination uses the never-ending source of seawater to give freshwater, which can be used for many purposes.


  • Gives us a source of Drinking water
  • Gives water to grow crops and agriculture
  • Helps in the preservation of the freshwater
  • Technology in use across many countries and hence well tested.
  • Provides a source that is independent of the climate and weather conditions.

Downside of desalination

As every coin has a flipside, desalination also has its cons. It is quite an expensive method as the infrastructure is quite expensive, and so is the water obtained from desalination compared to those derived from freshwater sources. Apart from the cost factor, there are also other factors that we need to consider when opting for desalination.

  1. The process itself requires chemicals to be successful and efficient. This means there could be by-products that can seep into your freshwater as well.
  2. Another factor to worry about is the dump of this waste from desalination, which is quite harmful to our environment.
  3. Brine is another by-product of desalination, which is dumped into the ocean, endangering the species in the sea. Using brackish water could help in reducing the impact on ocean life.
  4. The amount of energy consumed is also quite high, and hence there is an increasing need to look for natural renewable resources to power up the desalination plants. Using solar energy is a viable option and is already being used by countries like Saudi Arabia for powering desalination plants.

Now comes the question of whether this is the only option available to us. There are indeed other options which are less harmful to the environment and may not cost as much as large scale desalination plants either.

The other alternatives include conservation, water recycling, capturing and reusing rainwater, conjunctive use of the water, and more. We have to explore these options and use desalination as a last resort for handling the shortage of water. As much as the environment on land is important for our survival, the ocean ecosystem is equally important for a healthy Earth.

It is true that desalination provides us with a much needed freshwater source, but it comes at a very high cost. And yet, when you consider the climatic changes and the rising drought conditions across the world, we dont have another viable option to meet the needs of the global population.

Finally, to answer whether desalination can quench the worlds thirst, desalination might be a viable solution, but it could be the best option if we could work around the drawbacks.