WESTERNERS. Think about all the unsexy infrastructure sustaining your modern life right now; the WIFI and electricity you’re using, the water in the coffee you’re drinking, the roads the coffee came on, schools, hospitals, defence, all of it. The stuff you only notice when it goes wrong or you want to pay less for it.
Now imagine you had a choice: lose them all, but keep your water supply; or, lose your water but keep the rest.
It shouldn’t be, because water underpins all the others and life itself. OK, it’s an over simplified and ludicrous choice but the point is that robust and reliable water supplies are as vital now as the day we emerged from the swamp. We can’t afford to treat it them as a Cinderella service, or even a given, any more.
Societies that recognise and act on water scarcity are going to be the big winners in our new climatic future. Water-stressed countries which adopt water efficient policies now could achieve predicted growth rates of up to 6% by 2050, according to the World Bank.
Water should be our #1 priority
Safeguarding lives and protecting society from water-induced breakdown should be the number one priority for Governments. But for those prepared to invest, it’s also a huge opportunity.
My top tip is to watch India. They just landed on the moon, but that achievement doesn’t even come near the work they’re doing at home.
India has almost one fifth (18%) of the world’s population but only four percent of its fresh water. Nevertheless, it is on track to deliver universal tap water to every household by next year through its Jal Jeevan Mission. Click here to watch the connection numbers creep up (68.78% complete as of Sep 27, 2023).
While many developed cities are facing day zero (when the taps run dry), India’s fast-urbanizing cities are going in the other direction, on an amazing journey of investment and utility creation to improve supplies which are currently intermittent. Hubbali-Dharwad, where households only get water a couple of hours a day, or Shimla, where residents got water once every three days, are leading the way in progress towards 24/7 supplies. In arid Karnatakata state, a brand new metered distribution system is being built to supply 10 million people across 31 districts.
Digital water as economic indicator
The really interesting thing for me is that, to rise to the scale of the challenge, the Indian Government is actively living the UN’s long-held belief that innovation and technology are the way to go to improve universal water and sanitation. To make such a small amount of water go such a very long way, the networks that India builds will be among the most digitally advanced the world has ever seen.
Just like the Romans around Europe and, later, the Victorians in the UK, who kick-started societal progress through technological change, India could be about to unlock an explosion in its population’s health and talent.
Western nations should take note, and innovators in the water space should absolutely get involved.
The world’s mounting water challenges
Urban, rural and developing communities are facing unprecedented water challenges, not limited to water scarcity alone.
In cities, rapid urbanisation, erratic weather patterns and leakage rates of up to 60 per cent (the global average is 30%) is leading to day zero even in developed countries. Increasing industrialisation is competing for and contaminating water sources. And aging pipes, even where they still function efficiently, are not always up to the demands of climate and population change.
In rural and developing areas, the problems of access to clean water and sanitation services are even more fundamental. There can be a lack of proper infrastructure. Or, where it exists, the distances and remoteness make it too hard or too difficult for scant resources to maintain.
India faces all these problems simultaneously. Its vastness and diversity, varying water quality and the need for capacity building at the grassroots level means that digital tools will be instrumental in achieving its objectives.
A smart water digital toolbox
Unlike many public approaches to water services, India’s approach to digitisation and technology is collaborative, orientated to both speed and scale. Digital tools are very much seen as enablers.
Its comprehensive digital toolbox stretches from accurate Geographic Information System (GIS) asset mapping, to all aspects of remote and IoS real-time monitoring, advanced data analytics and AI – even mobile apps to educate and inform the population.
Such tools cover the sustainable sourcing of water, ensure quality and optimise reliable cost-efficient 24/7 distribution as well as real-time event and consumption monitoring and, through actionable AI-led insight, effective resource deployment. Advanced innovations like FIDO AI can also guide ongoing short- and long-term investment through evidenced-led analysis of event probability.
Technologies are also being used to aid participation and transparency, as this comprehensive and growing list of approved technologies proves Entrepreneurs and innovators are actively sought out and encouraged, which is why I am leading a UK trade delegation to India’s huge environmental technology trade fair IFAT in Mumbai later this month, part-funded by the Department for Business and Trade (DBT).
A UK trade delegation to India (Oct 16-18)
Our Digital Water Outward Mission to India builds on the UK’s strong track record on technologies and includes solutions that can help improve water distribution networks, reduce NRW, enable predictive maintenance and enhance overall water resource management. Solutions that we in the developed west are arguably not using enough.
I am looking forward to meeting water utilities, municipal commissions and contractors in Mumbai and Hyderabad and seeing how the country’s innovation ecosystem is delivering real results.
Because if they’re rapidly translating ideas into action and successfully scaling it for maximum value, there’s a lot utilities around the world could learn.
Victoria will be at the UK Trade Pavilion at IFAT, India’s leading environmental trade fair for water, sewage, solid waste and recycling, at the Bombay Exhibition Centre, Mumbai, from October 17 to 19, 2023.