Climate Change

From protective coatings to stop water evaporating to farmer-driven eco-movements. How start-ups are combating drought

Davos 2023; Drought will affect more than 75% of the world’s population by 2050.

Drought will affect more than 75% of the world’s population by 2050. Image: Pexels/James Frid

Gabi Thesing
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Climate Change

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • Drought could affect more than 75% of the world’s population by 2050, the UN estimates.
  • Record temperatures have led to the worst drought in Europe in 500 years, while 36 million people face food insecurity in the Horn of Africa due to crop failure.
  • Several start-ups are helping to tackle drought in Chile, Niger and India.

Finding ways to combat drought is more pressing than ever: droughts may affect three-quarters of the world’s population by 2050, the UN estimates. And they are increasing in frequency and severity, with the number and duration up 29% since 2000.

Water scarcity brings with it crop failure, wildfires, the prospects of starvation and mass migration. Droughts, storms and floods, could cost the global economy $5.6 trillion by 2050, engineering consultancy GHD says in its Aquanomics report.

Summer 2022 brought record temperatures to typically more moderate climates in the northern hemisphere, leading to Europe’s worst drought in 500 years, ruining crops and driving up food prices.

Europe has just faced its worst drought in 500 years. Davos 2023
Europe has just faced its worst drought in 500 years. Image: European Space Agency

More than 36 million people are facing food insecurity in the Horn of Africa after the worst drought in more than 40 years.

How 3 start-ups are tackling droughts in their neighborhood

While governments from the northern and southern hemispheres are coming together to fight the impact of water scarcity, several start-ups are trying to halt the impact in their local areas.

Here are three of them:

1. Stopping Chile’s reservoirs from drying out

Chile has been fighting drought for 13 years and its reservoirs are drying up. The o2 Company has developed a solution to stop water evaporating.
Chile has been fighting drought for 13 years and its reservoirs are drying up. The o2 Company has developed a solution to stop water evaporating. Image: o2 Company

Chile has been fighting drought for 13 years and its reservoirs are drying up.

One start-up trying to help farmers in particular is the o2 Company. It has developed a liquid mix of polymers and alcohol that can be poured onto water to stop it from evaporating. This protective layer on the water surface cuts the rate of evaporation by 50-80%, saving hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a month, according to o2.

“To me evaporation seemed like the obvious place to start,” founder Carlos Korner told Time earlier this year. The former publicist reached out to a chemist in 2018 to help him develop a product that could help combat Chile’s water scarcity. The firm now has 25 clients in the country, mostly farms, vineyards and mining companies.

2. Amman Imman – Bringing water and life back to Azawak

Amman Imman is working to improve water supply and tackle drought in Niger.
Amman Imman is working to improve water supply and tackle drought in Niger. Image: Amman Imman

In 2005, Amman Imman founder Ariane Kirtley travelled to the pastoral region of the Azawak, Niger, as a Fulbright Scholar. There, she saw children travelling up to 30 miles a day in the search of water, often in vain.


Her company’s latest project is the Landscape Restoration for Ecosystem Recovery, through which the non-profit organisation is aiming to restore watersheds, rebuild pasture lands and promote agroforestry in the Azwak region.

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What is the Forum doing to address the global water challenge?

By restoring these habitats, it hopes to replenish soils, be able to catch and stock rainwater, and enable more sustainable food production. It also runs an international schools programme that educates students about climate change and Africa’s Great Green Wall Initiative.

3. Replenishing India’s Cauvery River

The Kaveri River (also known as the Cauvery) is a lifeline for southern India, supplying cities such as Bangalore and Chennai. Like almost all rivers in India, it is forest-fed. Historically, the region where the Cauvery runs was covered in trees, meaning the soil was constantly replenished and the river remained fed.

However, as the forests disappear the river is drying up, and this is taking a toll on local farmers, who are facing failed harvests and crippling debt.

The Isha Foundation’s Cauvery Calling campaign aims to enable 5.2 million farmers to plant 2.42 billion trees over 12 years along the river's 1-kilometre wide area to replenish water levels and the groundwater table.

Launched in July 2019, Cauvery Calling is the world’s largest farmer-driven eco-movement.

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