Creating technological solutions is an important aspect of addressing the impending water crisis. One such technology is an innovation by the Abu Dhabi-based start-up Manhat, whereby a device floats on the sea surface and collects the freshwater evaporated by the sun’s rays. It is highly adaptable to different locations worldwide because if there is sunlight, the technology can work effectively.
“Creating technological solutions like ours is an important aspect of addressing the impending water crisis. However, a singular technology alone cannot solve the crisis entirely. A combination of different technologies is needed to tackle the challenges associated with water scarcity effectively,” explains Dr. Saeed Alhassan, Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Manhat.
Although water covers more than 70% of the earth’s surface, only around 3% of it is freshwater while demand for this scarce resource is constantly on the rise.
“It is probably the most serious and one of the less disclosed humanitarian and economic crises already affecting us, especially when considering how it is being aggravated by climate change, overuse, pollution, and human impact."
How serious is it?
Globally, all regions face a trajectory of low levels of water security, and access to safely managed drinking water and sanitation is still a dream for more than half the global population.
“It is probably the most serious and one of the less disclosed humanitarian and economic crises already affecting us, especially when considering how it is being aggravated by climate change, overuse, pollution, and human impact,” says André Villaça Ramalho, Water Resilience Coalition Coordinator at United Nations Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate.
The severity of the problem varies across different regions, influenced by factors such as geography, history, income, and weather conditions. However, even advanced economies such as North America and Europe are struggling with depleting water levels and drought.
“Any country, regardless of economic status, can get into trouble without proper planning that keeps water use less than the available water. Unfortunately, many countries in the Global North have failed to properly plan their water-dependent development and that is why they are facing water shortages,” says Professor Edeltraud Guenther, director of the UN University’s Institute for Integrated Management of Material Fluxes and of Resources (UNU-FLORES).
Available technological solutions range from advanced sensing technologies to software-defined networks that enable effective monitoring and modelling for water issues. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will also play a vital role in managing water supplies, predicting shortfalls, and adapting to water crises.
“The evolution of IoT and monitoring for agriculture has a major role in contributing not only to increasing efficiency in irrigation by indicating when to turn on the water and for how long, but also by maximising the most efficient use of agrochemicals, thus reducing pollution load flowing to rivers,” Ramalho adds.
At UNU-FLORES, Guenther and her team are exploring ways to incorporate the latest technology for sustainable and smart-water management in their projects. Wastewater in particular is a critical component of the water cycle, but availability and accessibility of data are a stumbling block for enabling water circularity in the private sector.
SMART-WaterDomain is developing a digital decision-support and monitoring tool (DSS) to support real-time data collection on water demands, availability, and quality from both public and private organisations. This systematic framework will facilitate the uptake of smart reuse of wastewater resources and serve as an assessment mechanism for companies to integrate these techniques in their value chains.
"Many countries in the Global North have failed to properly plan their water-dependent development and that is why they are facing water shortages."
How corporations can scale things up
To avert a catastrophe, corporations need to do their part in helping to develop and implement these solutions and ensure their accessibility to those who need them most.
According to Dr. Alhassan, corporations can contribute by investing in research and development, establishing partnerships, and implementing sustainable water management practices. They are the ones who can identify and accelerate start-ups and be seed funders to test and scale new technologies, Ramalho adds.
One challenge is finding innovative ways to invest in these technologies that go beyond accelerator programs, grants and OPEX.
“Many organisations developed or are expanding their fund portfolio so that companies can use their balance sheet to invest in developing techs with financial models that involve, for example, microfinancing or venture capital. The potential is huge, but it needs coordination and a capacity to coalesce companies toward these funds and join them in a common target,” says Ramalho.
This is where initiatives like the Water Resilience Coalition’s WRC Investment Portfolio can play a role. The WRC is working with multiple fund partners to curate opportunities where companies can invest in new technologies together in support of its collective goal to have a positive impact in 100 basins by 2030.
“Creating technological solutions like ours is an important aspect of addressing the impending water crisis. However, a singular technology alone cannot solve the crisis entirely. A combination of different technologies is needed to tackle the challenges associated with water scarcity effectively."
Innovations are and will continue to be extremely important in managing the water crisis, for example using wastewater in industrial processes and reclaiming drinking water from wastewater, according to Guenther.
She adds that we also urgently need a transformative shift in our mindset and actions, breaking free from conventional practices, and embracing a change in thinking towards a more comprehensive and circular approach to water management.
“To effectively realise the environmental and economic objectives of SDG6, we require holistic and comprehensive strategies that leverage digital technologies, enhance knowledge, and foster multi-stakeholder collaborations,” Guenther concludes.