Water under threat: new technology is the answer-

Water has ranked in the top five risks for seven consecutive years in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report. And if you look at the headline threats to humanity and the planet over the next decade, as pinpointed by 1,000 experts, all but one are linked to water.

These include extreme weather, natural and man-made disasters, climate change, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse.

These events destroy lives and livelihoods, and water is at the heart of the issue.

“Water insecurity will continue to cause ripple effects across global supply chains from manufacturing to agriculture, it will strain geopolitical ties and it will place untold pressure on the world’s poorest populations,” warns Mr Mung. Alex Mung, head of Water Initiative at the World Economic Forum (WEF). “The resilience of our society, both in terms of economic growth and human security, must be addressed through a water lens.”

While other global risks have peaked and subsided, water has stubbornly remained. It is the ultimate public goods challenge, complex and inter-connected across many aspects of society.

Tackling the issue requires collaborative, cross-sector solutions and a shift by all stakeholders to place a higher value on water.

“Let’s face it, water is chronically undervalued and, in some cases, not valued at all. Only by embedding its true financial, social and environmental value into policymaking, governance, and financial and risk reporting can we instil a better mentality,” says Mr Mung. “Take wastewater treatment and reuse: when water is valued properly, there are incentives to fully capture the benefits of a circular economy which can bring about a range of new innovations.”

In the agriculture sector, companies such as Microsoft are demonstrating how precision irrigation using smart sensors in fields can give information about soil conditions. Crop data, coupled with drone images of fields, and the use of artificial intelligence to interpret data and model a heat map of the crop area, can all help ensure water is used optimally in food production.

“Emerging fourth industrial revolution technologies – machine-learning, artificial intelligence, advanced sensors, satellite imagery, robotics and others – have the potential to unlock a wealth of previously unobtainable data about water systems at the global, regional, watershed and local level,” says Mr Mung.

“Combined with new forms of public-private collaboration, these technologies can support decision-makers across industry, government and civil society to balance trade-offs, identify common priorities and make smarter investment choices.”

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