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Ahmed Bin Sulayem

The Avoidable Water Crisis

According to experts just ahead of the UN water summit, the world is facing an imminent water crisis, with demand expected to outstrip the supply of fresh water by 40% by the end of this decade. While this might sound like yet another existential threat to lose sleep over, it is also an avoidable one, thanks to the significant R&D and investments made toward how we as a planet can support water security.

Following the hierarchy of needs, it is perhaps best to start with the three most pressing issues – how are we improving water conservation? How are we innovating new ways to treat water to meet surging demand? And how are we adapting the global logistics industry to ensure sustainable access?

It is no secret that despite most of the world being covered in water, only approximately 0.5% is fresh, available, and potable – a figure under increasing pressure due to agricultural proliferation, pollution, and a burgeoning population. With more than 1.8 billion people expected to live in water-stressed regions by 2025, The Centre for Strategic and International Studies estimates that overall water infrastructure will require an additional $22.5tn by 2050 to make par.

The promise of AgTech

As a sector notoriously reticent in exploring new ideas, the last decade has shown a wider adoption of AgTech solutions, with digitalization proving to be a front-runner in supporting greater precision farming and automation. The sector is tipped to grow by 286%, reaching a value of $5.57 billion by 2030. High-growth products, such as smart irrigation, have been suggested to save over 406,000 litres per hectare, significantly increase yields and reduce labour requirements while identifying a broad range of crop abnormalities.

Repair over replace

With 68% of the world’s population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, another significant area of progress has been the repair of ageing infrastructure. In response, technology has played a crucial role in reducing losses through the installation of thousands of sensors. Companies such as United Utilities, one of the UK’s largest water companies, have also started working with Fido Tech to refine an AI system trained on identifying leaks with more than 90% accuracy. Major suppliers such as Thames Water have claimed a 10.2% reduction in water leakage in 2021/2022 while remaining committed to a 20.4% reduction between 2020 – 2025.

When the answer is infrastructure

As highlighted during the recent UN 2023 Water Conference, which took place in New York a few months ago, robust logistical strategies are also a critical challenge for ensuring wider accessibility to water-stressed regions, and while road haulage has been a temporary solution, more sustainable and permanent measures such as direct piping and reservoirs have also been investigated to support less accessible communities.

Qatar successfully invested in delivering the world’s largest water reservoirs as part of the peninsula nation’s water security program. Equipped with enough water for seven whole days, KAHRAMAA has access to 6,500,000m3 of potable water storage, and while a smart investment for arid regions such as the GCC, wetland and river restoration is by far a more cost-effective solution if available. According to Water World Week, “reservoir construction cost is 40% more expensive per square metre than a wetland restoration and 400 times higher than a river.”

Second-hand water sourcing

When it comes to water treatment, historically, we have had to rely on recycling wastewater by boiling, filtering, distilling, or chlorinating and desalination, the latter of which involves either distillation or reverse osmosis. Fortunately, progress has been made in both methods to make each process more efficient in terms of quality and cost-effectiveness.

At the frontier of water sourcing, some of the world’s leading tech is now helping to conjure water out of thin air. Companies such as Israel’s Watergen and Source.co are pioneering new products which leverage the power of the sun to “extract an endless volume of clean, reliable drinking water from the air.” Not only do these systems provide a renewable, off-grid solution for harvesting pollutant-free mineral water for both private and commercial use, but also support a plastic-free future, in the case of Source, by eliminating the need for 54,000 single-use plastic water bottles over a 15-year lifespan.

Looking ahead

Whether looking at it through the lens of conservation or better health, there is no doubt that water’s status as a precious resource will only grow in line with greater scarcity, albeit with several of the innovations listed above helping to support more effective preservation techniques. As a result, how water can and will be monetised will also be an evolving industry covering innovation, sustainability, the circular economy, financial instruments, and greater scrutiny over quality.

Israel’s position as a leader in technological advancements, particularly in sectors like AgTech and water treatment and management solutions, positions it well to tackle the looming water crisis head-on. By leveraging its expertise and fostering collaboration between academia, industry, and governments, Israel has a significant opportunity to export its expertise to regions facing similar challenges and spearhead the development and implementation of sustainable water solutions around the world.

About the Author
Ahmed Bin Sulayem is the Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre and has driven its growth from a start-up of 28 member companies in 2003 to the world’s leading free zone in 2023 with over 23,000 member companies from 180 countries, employing over 65,000 people. Mr. Bin Sulayem currently serves as the Chairman of the Dubai Diamond Exchange (DDE) and the Dubai Gold & Commodities Exchange (DGCX).
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