How technology can help address the world’s water security crises

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Sundararajan Mahalingam, President – Strategy, HCL Corporation

  • Climate change is negatively impacting the global freshwater supply.
  • As our changing climate puts more stress on the availability and quality of water worldwide, we must focus on innovative solutions for improving water security.
  • The public and private sectors must come together to harness the power of technology to improve global water security.

With the global population expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, the need to preserve our natural resources has never been more urgent. Our global freshwater supply has been severely impacted by climate change. In 2015, the United Nations released its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with issues around water sitting as the sixth goal of 17, highlighting the global urgency of this issue. By 2030, the global demand for water will exceed sustainable supply by an alarming 40%.

Water insecurity is a growing bio-diversity challenge. We must address the problem and arrive at immediate and innovative solutions. While technological innovation shapes nearly every other aspect of our lives, we’ve been slow to apply tech solutions towards one of the greatest challenges of our time.

As our changing climate puts more stress on the availability and quality of water worldwide, we urgently need a shift in perspective that puts renewed focus on innovative solutions to water security. We must bring together individuals and institutions that can create a more enabling ecosystem, with an emphasis on technology and innovation to drive sustainable change with regard to freshwater conservation.

Tapping the support of the private sector

Addressing the issue of enhancing freshwater reserves, and ensuring equitable access to them, requires fresh technology-driven ideas and decisive action – something that the private sector and especially start-ups, are uniquely poised to do. They have the organizational infrastructure and the entrepreneurial zeal to break down complex challenges and move quickly to deliver results.

Bringing in more actors to this – notably the government and academia – will provide better, cheaper and speedier access to institutional funding and to better and more collaborative R&D and innovation, which will improve the quality of interventions and solutions being rolled out.

Having said this, we don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel. There are many lone individuals and start-ups who are already operating in this space and doing some incredible work that can be studied and replicated on a wider scale. What is also noteworthy, is how these and many other advocates are harnessing technology to drive positive change across every continent.


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

Water security – both sustainable supply and clean quality – is a critical aspect in ensuring healthy communities. Yet, our world’s water resources are being compromised.

Today, 80% of our wastewater flows untreated back into the environment, while 780 million people still do not have access to an improved water source. By 2030, we may face a 40% global gap between water supply and demand.

The World Economic Forum’s Water Possible Platform is supporting innovative ideas to address the global water challenge.

The Forum supports innovative multi-stakeholder partnerships including the 2030 Water Resources Group, which helps close the gap between global water demand and supply by 2030 and has since helped facilitate $1Billion of investments into water.

Other emerging partnerships include the 50L Home Coalition, which aims to solve the urban water crisis, tackling both water security and climate change; and the Mobilizing Hand Hygiene for All Initiative, formed in response to close the 40% gap of the global population not having access to handwashing services during COVID-19.

Want to join our mission to address the global water challenge? Read more in our impact story.

Using AI to save water

Kilimo, a SaaS-enabled marketplace that was set up in 2014 in Cordoba, Argentina, uses AI to help farmers optimize irrigation and sell water offsets to companies that want to become water neutral; paying farmers for their water savings. Kilimo has already saved 72 billion litres of water in Latin America. It now serves farmers in six countries, helping them reduce their water usage by up to 30%. It also validates farmers’ savings using a blockchain-based verification standard and it connects farmers who are reducing their water consumption with companies that want to attain water neutrality.

Quite some distance from Kilimo, in Mumbai, India, Indira Water has treated over 750 million litres of water for reuse while providing 70-75% life cycle carbon savings with its solutions. Its decentralised and modular electrically-driven water treatment solution saves millions of litres of water each year as it strives for a carbon-neutral and water-secure future. Indra’s key benefits include lower energy consumption, no added chemicals in primary water treatment, 65-70% sludge generation, up to 99% water recovery and higher efficiency and lower maintenance, as well as pollutant removal.

Then there is NatureDots, whose solution is driving positive change across 20 countries. It is tackling the pain points of 15 million inland freshwater fish farmers reeling under acute stress due to the combined effects of deteriorating water bodies, lack of water data and climate risks, among others. NatureDot combines the power of ‘Nature + DeepTech’ to de-risk freshwater fisheries and water management from ecological stressors. It ensures high revenue for fish farmers and water managers and focused health monitoring of water bodies and specific nature-based solutions, achieving healthy water and healthy protein for all.

The problems may be complex and disparate, but as these intrepid entrepreneurs have shown, we are capable of addressing them as a global community. While diverse in their approach and solutions, the common thread that binds them together is their passion and the high degree of innovation combined with the use of cutting-edge technology.

A systems-thinking approach

This proves that new technologies can help better manage water resources and mitigate the heavy impacts of climate change. The one other quality that they have in common – they have embraced systems-thinking approaches to address these complex water conservation initiatives. This helps break down complex systems into smaller processes, addressing the root causes, rather than superficially addressing the problem.

While the challenge remains Herculean, the future is bright. Human endeavour has moved mountains and sent man to the moon. As American author, Frank Herbert succinctly put it: “A man’s flesh is his own; the water belongs to the tribe.” With this perspective in mind, the call of the hour is for stakeholders far and wide to come together to address what has emerged as one of the biggest challenges facing our ecosystem – that of preserving and reviving our freshwater reserves.

Changing our traditional worldview of this issue – moving from a purely altruistic lens to a more corporate lens will help bring more actors into the fray. With technology as the catalyst and start-ups as drivers, there is a lot that can be accomplished in a comparatively short period. In the process, we can help forge a more unifying and enabling ecosystem that brings back our water to life.

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