The future of water: How innovations will advance water sustainability and resilience worldwide

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Innovations in water
Global entrepreneurs are witnessing a greater willingness by utilities and business to test and adopt promising technologies.

Co-authored by Nimesh Modak and Tom Ferguson.

 

As the global population hurtles towards 9.7 billion people by 2050, it has never been more important to produce more with less. As the water supply and sanitation (WSS) sector continues to face increasing pressures, especially due to the impacts of climate change, governments in the developing world will need to increase the sector’s resilience and sustainability. Innovation and technology have a vital role to play in scarcity and safety, water efficiency, utility operations, monitoring and treatment and data and analytics. Global entrepreneurs are witnessing a greater willingness by utilities and business to test and adopt promising technologies: the remote sensing of water, which can help with water accounting, non-revenue water remediation and much more; the internet of things, which enables smart irrigation, water quality control, and which, when coupled with new computing capacity, allows us to develop complex models for water management. Working with companies that offer the latest technological innovations in the sector can help advance such efforts. The World Bank, along with water innovation accelerator Imagine H2O, recently hosted a virtual event showcasing fourteen water technology businesses with especially promising products and services.

The World Bank has previously partnered with such businesses on different projects and initiatives. This includes Drinkwell, the inaugural winner of the Imagine H2O Urban Water Challenge, which the Water Global Practice connected with the Chittagong Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, leading to the first deployments of four water ATM booths providing safe drinking water access to 5,100 people. In cooperation with the utility, Drinkwell will be rolling out an additional 96 systems in 2020 and 2021 across Bangladesh’s second largest city.   

The businesses highlighted in the webinar, many of which are currently or have previously been part of Imagine H2O's accelerator programs, offer technologies that help utilities serve customers digitally, manage water resources remotely and in real time, empower farmers to make water smart decisions and utilize distributed technology to expand water and wastewater services to underserved communities.

Smarter Homes, for example, is a company that produces the WaterOn device, which is a smart metering and automated leakage prevention system. Thus far, the device has been used on apartment buildings in India and has helped save 40,000 households an average of 35 percent of water consumption. Meanwhile, in Bengaluru, its use saves roughly 71 million liters of water every month.

Technologies like the WaterOn system will be especially instrumental in helping governments achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 - ensuring the "availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all." Another part of this equation, however, is increasing access and delivery of WSS services to consumers. This is where companies like Wonderkid can be of great assistance. Wonderkid offers a mobile management platform so utilities can improve their customer care and billing services. It incorporates data insights to inform infrastructure investment planning, as well as regulatory oversight to monitor the compliance of service delivery standards to citizens. The platform has been used in over twenty utilities in Sub-Saharan Africa and has resulted in 500,000 people gaining access to safer and more reliable WSS services.

Jennifer Sara, the World Bank Water Global Practice's Global Director, has said that technology is a critical element that can help support us in improving water and sanitation sectors and strengthening water resources management. "It is a fundamental part of our three strategic objectives: ensuring sustainability, meeting basic needs, and taking into account long-term forces that are shaping the external environment."

One such basic need for every individual is being able to put food on the table. Doing so often requires that crops are in abundant supply, which can easily be jeopardized by droughts and other negative impacts of climate change. If farmers can optimize and increase crop yields, such impacts can be mitigated. Ignitia is a company that uses machine learning and remote sensing to send text messages to small-scale farmers with hyper-local information on climates and weather forecasts. The company has over one million subscribers in Ghana and other West African countries, and its technology has greatly benefitted farmers, which in turn can trickle down to consumers. The service has thus far led to a 65 percent average yield increase across different staples, and a $476 increase in average farmer income.

Oneka is another company that helps consumers obtain safe drinking water without utilizing land or emitting greenhouse gases. With a focus on Small Island Developing States, Oneka’s wave-powered desalination buoys convert ocean water to drinking water. Each buoy can produce 10m3 of drinking water per day, saving an estimated 34,000kg of CO2 per year. 

Sara says, however, that one trend in developing countries is that gaps in technical capacity, expertise and resources can prevent such technology from being sustainable and widespread. But with support and collaboration between stakeholders such as local governments and utility operators, as well as international organizations like the World Bank and innovation accelerators like Imagine H2O, these types of technologies and innovations can be implemented effectively in the developing world. While proper implementation and delivery won't happen instantaneously, it's the first of many important steps that will lead to widespread water sector sustainability and resilience.

The fourteen innovators showcased at Water Online Week represent a diverse range of solutions reimagining a water resilient future globally. To learn more about Imagine H2O’s portfolio and programs, visit www.imagineh2o.org.

  • Arable (United States): Sensor and analytics platform that provides real-time, actionable insights with predictive capabilities for agriculture and food systems.
  • Cloud to Street (United States): Flood risk detection through global satellites, machine learning and community intelligence. Targets 90% of households in emerging markets who are currently uninsured.
  • Drinkwell (Bangladesh / India): Water ATMs for arsenic and fluoride affected communities through patented filtration technology, IOT enabled operations and pay-as-you-go cards.
  • Ecosoftt (Singapore): Fit-for-purpose, low-cost wastewater and reuse solutions for communities not connected to water and sewer networks.
  • Electrolytic Technologies (United States): Onsite chlorine generation eliminating costs and risks from transportation of chemicals to water and wastewater treatment plants.
  • Fluid Robotics (India): In-pipe robotic mapping and assessment tools to detect leaks in distribution systems and prevent pollution runoff in urban waterways.
  • Ignitia (Sweden / Ghana): Tropical weather forecasting platform that sends highly accurate, hyper-local forecasts to small-scale farmers via SMS.
  • Oneka (Canada): Wave-powered desalination for autonomous drinking water production targeting small island communities.
  • SatSure (India): Satellite remote sensing-based irrigation monitoring and decision making platform for governments.
  • SmarterHomes (India): Smart metering and automated leakage prevention system for high-rise apartment buildings in urban India.
  • SmartTerra (India): Operational intelligence for water and wastewater utilities to reduce losses, assess network health and improve revenue.
  • Vassar Labs (India): Water management and forecasting platform for state government agencies using satellite imagery, in-situ sensors and predictive analytics.
  • Veracet (United States): DNA fingerprinting technology and analytics platform to identify the source of contamination in water.
  • Wonderkid (Kenya): Mobile water management platform for water utilities to improve the quality of their customer care and billing services.

Authors

Chloë Oliver Viola

Senior Water Supply and Sanitation Specialist, Water Global Practice, World Bank Group

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