UN Declares 2013 ‘International Year of Water Cooperation’
Water is the most important resource on the planet. This is a timeless truth. Yet, in this century, water faces increasingly acute and unique challenges. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2013, experts rate water supply crisis as one of the world’s greatest risks. In terms of likelihood, water availability (or lack thereof) is ranked fourth highest risk to global security and in terms of impact it is rated as the second highest.
The rise of mega cities is placing skyrocketing new demand on water supplies. By 2025, two-thirds of the world is projected to face water scarcity. The issue of water is so crucial that the United Nations declared 2013 as the “International Year of Water Cooperation.” The UN says its objective “is to raise awareness, both on the potential for increased cooperation, and on the challenges facing water management in light of the increase in demand for water access, allocation and services.”
The Era of Water Management
A study about the water crisis in South Africa (Uasa Economic Impact Study) found that for every percent of water that becomes unusable, 200,000 jobs may be lost, which could lead to a 5.7% drop in disposable income on a per capita basis and a 5% increase in government spending. Without smarter water management, the ability of the water system to meet the critical needs of people and business will be challenged. Governments, cities, utilities and businesses all have critical roles to play in crafting smarter approaches to addressing the world’s water system challenges.
Worldwide, up to 60 percent of water is lost due to leaky pipes – to the tune of US$14 billion every year. Locally, South Africa is losing up to 35% of its water supply due to leakages and failure to pay. With deteriorating resources and exponential growth in water demand, an alarming percentage of South Africa’s water is going to waste. IBM South Africa has entered into a 30-day cooperative project to help capture, share and analyze information about the water distribution system in South Africa. It will result in an aggregated WaterWatchers report which will create a single view of the issues challenging the urban water systems of our big cities, helping local municipalities gain a visual “picture” to prioritize improvements to city water infrastructure. It’s a new kind of data aggregation, analytics and visualization for water planners in South Africa.
This crowdsourcing project will be driven by the cooperation of South African citizens to report water leaks and faulty water pipes via a mobile phone technology. With around 1-million new residents to urban cities in South Africa every 10 years, it is becoming more feasible to leverage existing technologies (in most cases, mobile devices, smartphones, and broadband access) and co-create smart civic applications that can help improve public service delivery in our cities. The WaterWatchers platform holds enormous potential for similar applications that can be used to monitor and report on just about any aspect of one’s environment: city services (reporting potholes, late buses), wildlife, noise pollution, air quality, weather and more.
Working together, through water education, diplomacy, water management and financing, is the only way forward. Water doesn’t follow political or jurisdictional boundaries, so cities need to take a trans-boundary approach to water management.
Water challenges are growing but we are entering the age where big data and advanced analytics will enable us to change and better optimize the way that water systems operate. Yet fundamentally, technology can do little without the will of humans to cooperate, to understand that only together can we solve these challenges in sustainable ways.
Ahmed Simjee is Smarter Planet spokesperson for IBM South Africa.
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