Challenge 2

Tackling water scarcity for future generations

How can clean water - a resource we cannot live without - be provided in a future where it’s more scarce and at higher risk of pollution?

Water scarcity is a growing global problem. Half a billion people already experience year-round water scarcity. It is expected that over half of the world’s population, more than 4 billion people, will experience water scarcity for at least one month per year by 2025. This could lead to serious consequences, including food insecurity, economic disruption, and social conflict.

Water scarcity is caused by a combination of factors: Population growth, growing demand for industrial processes and agriculture (agriculture now accounts for 70% of freshwater withdrawals); the climate crisis leading to drought, extreme weather events and changes to rainfall patterns; Poor water management such as inefficient irrigation practices, inadequate storage and distribution; Environmental degradation such as deforestation, overgrazing and other activities that alter the landscape and disrupt the natural water cycle; Pollution leading to contaminated water sources that make water unsafe to drink or use.

Engineering infrastructure and technology is fundamental to human access to clean drinking water; from collecting, cleaning and treating; to safely distributing, dealing with wastewater, and protecting natural resources from contamination, the engineering involved in getting water from source to tap has the potential to deliver better quality water, more efficiently, more affordably, more equitably and more sustainably than ever before.

How can clean water – a resource we cannot live without – be provided in a future where it’s more scarce and at higher risk of pollution? 

Make sure your design is consistent with the theme of World Engineering Day 2023: Engineering innovation for a more resilient world.


This challenge have been produced by Engineers Without Borders International

Global Goals

Sustainable Development Goal

This challenge primarily supports the achievement of UN SDG 6

Ensure access to water and sanitation for all

It is estimated that even with current rates of progress, 2 billion people will still lack access to safely managed drinking water in 2030. Achieving the target of access for all would save 829,000 people annually. This is the number of people who die from diseases directly attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene practices. Although there is alleged to be enough freshwater globally to meet all our water demands, geography and climate means that water availability is variable around the world, putting some populations at risk of water scarcity.

Participants may nominate additional SDGs that are addressed as part of their solution.

Learn more


The issue of water scarcity affects both populations all over the world. 


Over two billion people live in countries where water supply is inadequate. Some 700 million people could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030. By 2040, roughly 1 in 4 children worldwide will be living in areas of extremely high water stress. It is projected that 685 million people living in over 570 cities are projected to see their fresh water availability drop by at least 10% by 2050, with some cities such as Amman, Melbourne and Cape Town projected to experience drops of 30-49%, and Santiago more than 50%. The city of Cape Town in South Africa experienced the reality of this in 2017-18 due to a prolonged drought and increased demand for water. 


It is also an issue that disproportionately affects those experiencing poverty. According to the United Nations, low-income residents can pay up to 50 times more for a litre of water than their wealthier neighbours, and prices often increase as water becomes scarcer.

Examples & resources

Addressing the issue

The climate crisis is exacerbating the issue. It is not only changing rainfall patterns, affecting groundwater recharge rates and increasing the risk of drought, but increased flooding and storms damage water infrastructure, and affect water quality at source – polluting it with nutrients, pathogens and sediment from runoff.


In addition, cross-border cooperative arrangements to manage water where rivers / water sources cross national boundaries are only in place in a small number of countries, and over the past 300 years, over 85 per cent of the planet’s wetlands – important natural flood protection systems – have been lost, mainly through drainage and land conversion, with many remaining wetland areas degraded.

  • Mangroves and other nature based barriers to protect human settlements and water sources


  • Smarter water management; only utilising drinking water for consumption and reusing / recycling greywater and lower quality water for other water uses, and industrial purposes


  • Rainwater harvesting and alternative water source development (e.g. desalination)


  • Smart irrigation to reduce excessive water use for agriculture, and precision fertiliser use to reduce nutrient pollution


  • Monitoring of river basin and watershed ecosystems and cooperative management across societal boundaries


  • Water conservation technologies and policies to reduce water consumption (e.g. alternatives to flush toilets, low consumption showers, low-flow appliances)


  • Smart monitoring of water distribution infrastructure to identify leaks, maintenance requirements and increase system efficiency


  • Smarter monitoring of household level water consumption to highlight opportunities for behaviour change (e.g. Singapore’s smart water monitoring)


  • Improved sewage and effluent management to reduce infiltration of contaminated water into primary water sources


  • Permeable pavements, and increased green infrastructure to reduce run-off during storm and flash flood events 


  • Tiered drainage systems to separate rainwater, storm water and sewage


Submission Steps

Submissions are due by January 22nd 2023 (midnight CET)

You and your team will need to:



Register on the submissions portal


Create an entry and complete the submission form


Upload your 5-min video submission

Additional Information

Submission Guidelines

This guideline has been designed to support the development of an engineering solution that demonstrates a considered response to one of the engineering challenges and also how one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) are advanced through engineering.

The success of an engineering project depends on much more than just the technical feasibility of the initial concept but also consideration of human factors, environmental context, cost and economic benefits, etc., are very important to the successful implementation of any innovative and ‘technically-sound’ idea.

Below are a series of considerations we recommend you factor into your solution to ensure it is appropriate to the context where it is to be implemented. You might ask yourself these questions a few times throughout the development process – it’s okay if you don’t have all the answers right away! How can you build on your original idea, to improve it each time?

Most effective technical solution for the context

  • Is the technical solution the most appropriate and effective for this context? Take the time to show what alternatives were considered and why you are proposing this solution as the most appropriate. What was the process you went through to determine this idea was the best one? How have you demonstrated the technical feasibility of this solution?
  • How might you construct and/or implement the project? Is your solution one that considers local capacity for ongoing management, repair, and maintenance? As much as possible, does your solution or system proposal align with locally available expertise?

Environmental sustainability outcomes

  • What Sustainable Development Goal does your solution idea contribute to? How? Are there any relevant indicators that might be useful to incorporate into your submission? Have you considered the carbon footprint of your proposed product or system?
  • What impacts, both positive and negative, will your solution have on the local environment? What measures would you propose be put in place to mitigate any negative impacts?
  • Consider the long-term sustainability of your project proposal. What is the life-cycle of your project or solution? What measures could be put in place to ensure either successful continuation into the future or a successful end-of-life process?
  • Have you considered the use of locally available materials that are contextually-appropriate and environmentally-friendly wherever possible? Transportation of project materials and availability of materials which might be required for future maintenance are a significant consideration for projects in many locations. Where might your proposed materials be sourced from?
  • Have you considered the resiliency of your solution to climate change and disasters?

Engagement of key stakeholders

  • Who are the individuals, organisations, or networks who might be impacted (positively or negatively) by your idea? What might these impacts be? Now think again, is there anyone you haven’t included?
  • How would you propose a project implementing team engage and consult these stakeholders throughout the project? Think about the initial solution right through to implementation. What avenues are there for community members to become involved? What form(s) of community engagement might be required for your particular solution?

Are there any ethical considerations – such as adverse impacts to the environment, economy, social inclusion, culture, community, resource use, that warrant consideration?

  • Incorporation of cultural and social factors, specifically the integration of indigenous knowledge or practices
  • Does your solution align with and/or celebrate the cultural and social practices of people who live and work in your project context?
  • If relevant to your proposal area, what might Indigenous-led solution look like?

How has your team utilised digital tools, for example to develop models of your proposed solution as part of the solution. Also how the team has utilised ICT in the process of putting forward your submission.

Cost estimates and economic and non-economic benefits

  • What is an estimated cost of the project? Think about the ‘capital expenditure’ (initial cost to start) and ‘operational expenditure’ (ongoing costs over time), which might include materials, implementation costs, operation/program delivery costs, and maintenance costs. What trade-offs might you be making in your cost assumptions? 
  • Are there are any potential economic and non-economic benefits to community stakeholders which could result from the project?

Based on the International Engineering Alliance Global Graduate Attribute and Professional Competencies Profiles.


Considering the proposal presented to you, evaluate whether the submission demonstrates the following engineering competencies.


  • Engineering Knowledge: Breadth, depth and type of knowledge, both theoretical and practical applied in developing the solution.


  • Problem Analysis: Level of thoroughness in examining the problem and developing the solution.


  • Design/ development of solutions: The extent to which the solution is original and extent to which the solution uses new and emerging technologies.


  • Investigation, research and ongoing learning: Breadth and depth of investigation, literature research and
    Experimentation applied in developing a unique and innovative solution.


  • Extent of use of digital tools and new technologies: The extent to which digital tools such as modelling, Computer Aided Design and Drawing etc. have been used to develop the solution.


  • Contribution to UN SDGs: Contribution to sustainable development and description of the UN SDGs that are addressed by the solution.


  • Consideration of broad ethical issues: The ethical issues that are addressed by the solution in terms of impact on the environment, different parts of society and economy and how the team has addressed ethical issues such as diversity and inclusion and how potential adverse impacts have been mitigated and positive impacts celebrated.


  • Individual and Collaborative Team work: Examples of how the team collaborated to successfully develop the proposed solution and description of the broad range of diversity elements (gender, age, ethnicity, physical abilities, location rural/urban) in the team.


  • Communication: Examples of how the team was resourceful in communicating with each in developing the proposal as well as the effectiveness of communicating the proposed solution.


  • Project Management and funding for the solution: Level of project management and estimated cost of solution with suggestions for financing the proposed solution.


Graduate Attributes that are addressed in the solution, referencing the International Engineering Alliance Graduate Attribute and Professional Competency (GAPC) Framework


Maximum Score per Category 4


Score: 0 – Not Addressed

Score: 1 – Limited attempt to address

Score: 2 – Some success in addressing the various elements

Score: 3 – Good attempt to address the element

Score: 4 – Addressed very effectively

In 2023, the hackathon has a single submission round. Participants will have the opportunity to make their official submission within 2 weeks of the Hackathon Challenge announcement (9 – 22 Jan 2023).
Submission is a 5-min video presenting their solution, along with a short-written element, detailing elements of their entry.