Innovation in the water sector, an obligation rather than a privilege

Stockholm (Sweden), Sep 1 (EFE).- On the last day of World Water Week 2022 in Stockholm, experts from the private sector in Latin America highlighted the value of innovation as an “obligation” to address the water crisis in the region.

Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) specialist Marcello Basani told EFE that, at this stage of a water crisis, with a particularly severe drought affecting different parts of the world, increasingly frequent flooding and lack of water, “innovation is an obligation” rather than a “privilege”.

Like Basani, numerous experts have traveled from Latin America to the Swedish capital to attend World Water Week, where they have discussed the improvements that the public and private sectors can make to alleviate the water stress currently being suffered on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

For example, promoting on the continent a “culture of innovation” within the water sector, creating a new “ecosystem” that encourages start-ups from leaving for other parts of the world and facilitating regulation that helps these initiatives.

“We have to do things differently, more efficiently, more effectively and more cheaply; we have to do more with less,” said Basani, who regrets that the water sector is still “quite green in innovation,” and identifies among the barriers the “lack of organization” on the demand side, that is, water and sanitation companies.

He explains that these companies often “lack mechanisms to change the modus operandi, they do not have internal incentives” and in many cases do not have sufficient budget.

On the other hand, “supply is punished” because there are not many activities that give them visibility, he argues; “There are no incubation or acceleration periods and it is very complicated to raise seed capital for small ‘start-ups’.”

In this context, the specialist emphasized the work that the IDB and the FEMSA Foundation are carrying out within the framework of the “Sources of Innovation” project, which was launched in 2021 precisely in response to these challenges.

The work consists of generating “spaces for dialogue” between water companies and start-ups, as well as creating “new tools that facilitate the development of strategic plans” for innovators, among other areas of action.

Basani refers to several innovative projects that have recently started, such as one that identifies leaks in water systems using satellite images, or another that uses machine learning on an analysis of historical data with algorithms to identify failures in sewerage systems.

Latin America has about one-third of the planet’s available fresh water – while accounting for less than 10% of the world’s population – yet there are still about 150 million people in the region who lack access to safe drinking water, he said.

“Many of the most important cities in the region, such as Mexico City, have unaccounted water – which leaks or does not reach homes in some way- of around 50%”, FEMSA Foundation Manager of Sustainable Development Carlos Hurtado said, adding that leaks are “a big problem” in Latin America, “especially in regions with high water stress.”

Hurtado emphasizes the urgency of innovating because “the economic, social and environmental models that have taken us this far are not going to take us to where we need to go,” and stresses the role of the Sources of Innovation project to “think about how things can be done” and break from the “inertia of practices that may not be the ones we need for the future.” EFE


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