Water is an essential but increasingly scarce resource that requires better management to conserve our existing supply and in order to sustain life and economic development.

This year’s World Water Week, organised by the SIWI, focused on water, ecosystems and human development underscoring the need for integration and nature-based approaches for managing water in order to not only achieve the SDG 6 but ensure sustainable water access for a growing global population.

According to Water.org, 844 million people are living without access to safe water and every 90 seconds a child dies from a water-related disease. A recent report by the  United Nations states that 70 per cent of all freshwater is used to irrigate crops.

In communities where treatment systems exist, an estimated 20 per cent of the water supply is lost through leaky infrastructure. 95 per cent of cities around the world dump raw sewage into their waters, frequently when treatment systems become inadequate.

Embrace technology

New, more effective ways to manage water, its quality, and the impact of climate change need to be implemented urgently to ensure that life and economic prosperity can be sustained over the coming decades.

Emerging technology including cloud, AI, IOT can be unique enablers to understand, monitor and manage water resources, assets and supply. Recently, my colleagues in Brazil launched  AgroPad, a prototype for real-time, on-location, chemical analysis of water and soil using AI.

The innovation is a paper-based water and soil testing strip that uses visual recognition capabilities and machine learning algorithms to determine exact amounts of chemicals in the sample.

New advancements such as this can help create more intelligent water quality monitoring systems, which will benefit our communities and our environment over the next century.

Another groundbreaking project is in New York’s Lake George which is reputed to be the world’s most advanced environmental monitoring system.

IBM has installed environmental sensor networks collecting over nine terabytes of data annually from 51 sensor platforms and more than 500 individual sensors installed around the watershed.

Cloud-based platform

Data from monitoring inform experiments on lake threats, including road salt, invasive species, and nutrients. The data also is ingested by a powerful supercomputer to run models that predict weather, runoff, and circulation of water and pollutants at high resolution.

Closer to home, in Kenya, IBM is using technology to build resiliency to help communities attain water self-sufficiency and combat extreme drought conditions.

Working with more than a dozen partners, IBM has created a cloud-based platform with a web-app for water managers, to give them the data they need to make decisions effectively.

The platform also includes a dashboard to monitor and maintain water pumps. When a water pump is broken it gets reported via a mobile app to quickly locate the issue and assign the complaint to a repair team for dispatch.

In the end, the measure of the success of the human race in the 21st century will be how effectively it uses vital resources, such as water for posterity. Technology needs to take centre stage in this effort.