Water crises have ranked among the top global risks in terms of potential impact for seven years in a row. This tells us that a new approach is no longer an option, but a necessity.
AUTHOR: Dr Lester Goldman, CEO, Water Institute of Southern Africa
It is clear that we have to begin to harness the technology and information represented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in the way we manage global challenges, including water.
The Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA) wants to ensure that, over the next few years, we can facilitate meetings and events where sector experts, policy influencers, decision-makers, entrepreneurs and technology innovators can harness 4IR and decide upon actions that mitigate this global risk.
And we must ensure that these ideas turn into actions.
Here are some 4IR technologies that will likely play a vital role in the way forward.
AI and decentralised systems
As some countries, towns and cities are already experiencing, urbanisation in emerging markets will place huge burdens on centralised systems.
Existing methodologies may not be feasible anymore, considering financial constraints, climate change and governance challenges.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT) can prove helpful in decentralising and bringing potential solutions to scale.
Satellite imagery, remote sensing, IoT, AI and other 4IR technology can all help to monitor basins and measure risks. This allows prompt analysis and increases solution effectiveness.
This ability to track and mitigate water-related risks is something we should all already be using, and is undoubtedly part of the required new approach.
IoT, AI and other advanced technologies combined will influence the way we provide and maintain water and sanitation in our cities.
Whether we retrofit to become more resilient or design service delivery systems to meet the increasing urbanisation needs, these technologies are generating both insights and economic opportunities.
Green measuring tools and AI sensoring in public areas, for example, already provide useful information that impacts our sanitation and healthcare and allows us to improve the quality and distribution of sanitation systems.
Advancements in material development, like new membrane technology, can improve our desalination and other water treatment efforts.
They also allow scope for large improvements in the quality of water reuse filtration. Affordable ‘space age’ materials are now available to improve our maintenance efforts, and innovators are even harvesting water from air on a more feasible basis.
Blockchain technology allows a secure, transparent and distributed ledger to record transactions between parties.
This technology could fundamentally transform the way water resources are managed and traded. All users will be able to access information on water quality and quantity.
This increased transparency will influence water user consumption patterns, and the real-time approach to water management could greatly mitigate tensions within and across localities by improving access to information and reducing incorrect data.
The opportunity before us is to connect and scale these pockets of innovation; however, this will not happen on its own.
We must refine and adapt the technologies but, more importantly, we must improve our governance frameworks and policies, social interactions, and financial models accordingly.
New forms of public-private participation and water business models are at the heart of our challenge.