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Future of Water Q1 2022

Water and sanitation pressures need technological solutions

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Dr Leo Carswell

Principal Consultant, Water Research Centre Ltd.

Andy Blackhall

Managing Director, WRc. Chair of the British Water International Forum,
Waterwise, NED

Scientific advancement, investment and a growing global need are accelerating technology development in the water industry.

The challenges around global water and sanitation are immense. The world’s population is estimated to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 (UN, 2022). By then, the climate crisis projections mean up to 5.7 billion people will be living in areas that are potentially water scarce for at least one month of the year (UN-Water, 2018).

Combine these figures with an increased demand for fresh water by 64 billion cubic meters each year as a result of economic growth and higher living standards (Worldometer, 2019) and there is no surprise that water is likely to become a catalyst for future wars and conflicts. So, does technology offer a solution to these challenges?

Technology as a problem solver

Water has always benefitted from innovation in other sectors. This might be novel materials from the chemical industry, sensors from biomedical engineering or data processing from behavioural science. However, in recent decades, the scale of the water and sanitation challenge has encouraged significant financial and philanthropic backing of entrepreneurs focused on developing countries.

Examples such as sewerless waste disposal and treatment, low-cost drinking water purification or testing and automated water dispensing units have all delivered significant benefits.

Without doubt, technology will continue to offer solutions to the significant global water and sanitation challenges.

The question is now what technologies will solve the challenges of the next 25 years. How can we guarantee supply in water stressed cities including Chennai, Istanbul and Tehra? Are there methods to refurbish pipeline assets leaking unsustainable volumes of water?

In the developing world the management of water systems, primarily to reduce water loss, has seen an unprecedented increase in sensing, control and automation. Capitalising on digital systems, Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics, these systems are directly applicable around the world.

A further area of innovation is new pipeline materials and on-site construction methods, which enable a future where long distance transfer of water is possible without risk of loss through asset failure, accidental damage or illegal tapping.

Innovation and caution

The rate of innovation in water technologies is higher than ever before. New possibilities offered by science and more readily available investments have facilitated this. Without doubt, technology will continue to offer solutions to the significant global water and sanitation challenges. However, as we have learnt over the past 160+ years since Dr John Snows pioneering work on cholera epidemics, technology, however simple, must be paired with knowledge and empowerment.

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