Context: With increasing urbanisation and dwindling of natural resources, it has become very important to increase the water sector’s sustainability and resilience i.e., being water smart, creating more with what we have, and wasting less.
- Innovation and emerging technology in all spheres must be utilised for ensuring water efficiency, safety, quality, and access.
Water Insecurity As A Real Challenge To Human And Environmental Security::
- Although access to clean water is one of the largest hurdles, insecurity also stems from a range of issues, including dwindling groundwater, stress on water bodies, unsustainable development and theft, amongst others.
- Changes in the climate and ecosystems are added causes and effects of water insecurity.
- About a third of the global population lives without access to clean water and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 set a high bar to ensure safe and affordable drinking water for all by the end of the decade.
- It will not be easy, especially in Asia, where approximately 300 million people in the region do not have access to safe drinking water, and close to 80 percent of wastewater generated by cities is discharged untreated into water bodies.
- These goals can be met through a better understanding of how water plays a pivotal role not only in human, food, and health security, but also in protecting ecosystems, growth ambitions, energy needs, and mitigating climate change.
Technology in the aid of growing water insecurity:
- The emerging technology and the evolution of the fourth industrial revolution can aid the growing water insecurity if the world is cognizant of following two key aspects:
- Overdependence on technology cannot and should not replace human responsibility on how water is seen, understood and used as there is no substitute for education to ensure that the world is no longer wasteful.
- Ensuring any emerging technology, innovation, and science is used mindfully with smart policies and global governance systems in place that provides security as well as safeguarding the water itself.
- Emerging technology can be effectively utilised and optimised to make access to water and managing water systems more efficiently while aiding in smarter predictions and forecasting.
- There are numerous ways to harness technology, innovation, and the drive to create and aid water solutions that can ultimately also prevent conflict over shared resources.
- From space to smart infra, science has proven that efficiency is possible.
- From low-cost desalination to hand-held purifying filters, technology has revolutionised access to clean drinking water and improved livelihoods across the globe.
- Technology has also aided in enabling better infrastructure, reducing loss, and creating a more secure environment.
- AI and machine learning can map and predict potential risks, and early warning tools can aid in tracking water supplies, the effects of changes in the weather patterns, and potential disruptions that can occur.
Industrial Revolution 4.0 and management of water resources:
- The emerging fourth industrial revolution offers untapped possibilities on understanding water.
- In 2021, a joint satellite mission between NASA and France, the Surface Ocean Topography Mission, was launched to use radar technology to provide a global survey of Earth’s water.
- The satellite will study lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and the oceans, potentially adding a wealth of knowledge to previously unknown data to understand, measure, and manage our water resources.
- Such knowledge is not only about understanding the waters better, but it is also incredibly useful in understanding the effects of development on resources and the more nuanced effects of changes in weather and climate, ultimately feeding into better policy making.
Case Study of Smart Metering:
- It uses IoT sensors installed at critical junctures along infrastructure to alert users on water levels, quality, theft, and leakages.
- Primarily used in large scale systems, these can be introduced at the household and community level, including new housing complexes that are being built in growing cities across India.
- Not only can such a system create better awareness and understanding on domestic use patterns to allow for better policy making, it also ensures that the citizen has a role and responsibility in the sustainability of water cycles.
Management of water resources with cutting edge innovations:
- Innovation in this space is countless, from water ATMs to fit-for-purpose wastewater solutions to underwater drones with sensors for pipes and drains.
- In Bhubaneshwar, researchers at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research are using burnt red clay to treat raw water and make it potable; and in central India, low cost fit-for-purpose wastewater solutions developed by ECOSOFTT are being used to treat pollution in the Narmada River.
- There are limitations and challenges to the extensive use of technology including:
- regulatory frameworks
- lack of skill
- the inability of existing infrastructure to support such innovation
- financial obstacles
- high energy consumption
- New environmental and water-related technology and the use of AI or machines are met with suspicion and are seen as a challenge to cultural traditions, especially if local communities are not suitably sensitised.
- There are added risks that come with the use of technology, such as cyberattacks that are used as threats on critical infrastructure, utilities and businesses, affecting consumers and causing significant financial loss.
- ‘Hacktivism’ is a growing concern and interconnected grids, dams, treatment plants, and other infrastructures all become vulnerable.
- As the dangerous trio of climate change, unsustainable development, and dwindling water resources hinder human and environmental security, the trio of science, emerging technology, and innovation need to be brought closer together in the water sector.
- Better public-private partnerships with substantial investment allows for targeted forecasting and tools that can predict potential conflict zones.
- A transformation in thought, analysis, and implementation is necessary to be able to counter known and, more importantly, some of the unknown risks and effects of a warming planet.
- A wider approach is needed with upgraded infrastructure, a range of new technical skills, new governance frameworks, education, and effective management.
- These are not insurmountable challenges and can be overcome through political will, forward-looking institutions and policies, and significant public-private partnerships.
Working with companies and people that bring the best of innovation in technology, artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), robotics, and new frontiers in computing can help in better management of the growing water insecurity. However, with the merging and blurring of these two spaces, the extent of the world’s dependency on technology should not distract from behaviour and patterns of use.