Published on The Water Blog

Water can’t wait: Accelerating the adoption of innovations in water security

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Accelerating innovation — from technology development and implementation to financing mechanisms and collaboration platforms — is the linchpin to progress towards global water security, climate adaptation, and sustainable growth. Without enhancing water security, regions and countries will not be able to adapt, decarbonize, or be resilient to climate change and other stresses and shocks. Challenges of water management are increasingly getting acute with climate change that have resulted in more frequent and more intense droughts or floods, and growing water demand for industrial and agricultural use, and water pollution.

Innovative solutions exist. Advances in sensor technology, computing, artificial intelligence, and big data management, can help monitor water quantity and quality and inform operational decisions by the policy makers and water management companies.  Also, innovations in nature-based systems to manage water are available that can contribute to resilient water management.

“If new technologies and approaches hold so much potential, then why is it that these solutions are not deployed more widely?” 

At the World Bank, we are asking how we can better facilitate the adoption of innovation necessary to accelerate progress towards water security. On 30 November, the Water Global Practice, with support from the 2030 Water Resources Group (2030 WRG) convened a high-level roundtable dialogue to provide insights into how to foster an enabling environment for water innovation. More than one hundred and fifty participants involved in innovations in water from the public and private sectors identified bottlenecks and possible solutions to adopting and scaling new approaches to address water challenges.   

Key outcomes from the session underlined the need to build local ecosystems that are conducive to innovation while establishing more concrete commitments for the global community, both public and private. This will require data to be more transparent and available for measuring success and holding stakeholders accountable. 

The sector also needs stronger water champions - elected leaders, policymakers, and local water caucuses. Political leadership and political will in government are critical for increasing the reach of innovation. All of this will require new models and platforms for radical, inclusive, collaboration. 

Business-as-usual approaches and traditional technological choices are insufficient to address the current water crises. The sector has historically been conservative, risk averse, and slow to adopt and disseminate new technologies.  It remains underfunded and water service providers are frequently resource-limited, lacking sufficiently skilled staff and financing to invest in researching, testing, and deploying new technologies.   

We must better integrate technology and innovation into World Bank operations.  In practice, this means intensifying our efforts to ensure water is appropriately valued, bring the know-how of innovators together with potential end-users, promote the role of the private sector for operations and financing, and do more to help countries develop the policies, incentives, and regulations needed to create an enabling environment to scale-up innovative solutions. 

To this end, we are working to expand opportunities for the private sector and support effective collaboration through multi-stakeholder platforms from local communities, national governments and development partners. Initiatives like the Utility of the Future Program create new pathways for utilities to identify, test and deploy innovative solutions that accelerate progress towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 – clean water and sanitation for all. Trust funds like the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership and the 2030 Water Resources Group advance multistakeholder collaboration on water issues, help crowd-in private sector participants and catalyze private sector investment.

Key important take-aways from the session include:
• There is a need to build and nurture multi-stakeholder platforms to promote innovation uptake at all levels – local and national. These platforms should involve a wide range of participants - involving the public and private sectors, as well as civil society associations – to build a coalition of partners to bring change.
• Support should be provided to entrepreneurs who promote water innovation so that new ways to effectively manage water emerges widely. The support could be provided by the public sector or through private corporations.
Innovation on the use of technology and application of different institutional models should be an integral part of water financing to promote economic decisions on investments and efficiency in operations. 

Today’s converging water crises are an imperative to innovate. Our planet’s water resources and the life-sustaining benefits they provide are under enormous pressure. As a global community, we are falling behind our commitment to achieving the SDGs. But it is not too late to act, because water can’t wait.

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Saroj Kumar Jha

Global Director, Water Global Practice

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