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Toward a sustainable water future

/ 04:03 AM September 22, 2021

COVID-19 continues to have an indiscriminate effect on all of us. Specifically, with safe water access a priority during these challenging times, the pandemic has brought global attention to how critical our water systems are, and the unique challenges and issues each country faces with water.

A major catalyst of these issues is climate change. It has been a silent killer in diminishing our natural resources. Nearly 5 million Filipinos rely on unsafe and unsustainable water sources, and 9 million lack access to improved sanitation.

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The relationship between water and climate change today is also a complex one. Water processes are traditionally energy-intensive, with fossil fuel use leading to greater greenhouse gas emissions and subsequently global warming.

We must examine the vulnerabilities and inefficiencies in our water systems to make the most of the natural resources we have, while reducing our emissions to mitigate climate change’s severity. This calls for innovation with a sustainability mindset, with a focus on building resilient communities.

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Powering water access. At the top of the agenda is addressing inequality in water access. Access remains highly inequitable across the Philippines, with regional basic water services access going as low as 62 percent. Around 99 percent of the one-fifth wealthiest households are more likely to have access to basic water services, while only 80 percent of the poorest quintile do.

Water access is essential. Rural communities and informal settlements in urban areas still struggle with access, as they lack the infrastructure to generate enough power to transport water.

Solar energy can be a game-changer by powering water pumping stations in such locations, drawing water from sources while operating with zero carbon footprint. Solar-powered solutions have made a positive impact in other Asian countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and India.

Strengthening wastewater infrastructure. Meanwhile with rapid urbanization, there is a need to scrutinize issues of urban development, especially during the pandemic. COVID-19 has led to increased wastewater production as the increase in medical waste has made its way into landfills and oceans.

Sustainable wastewater management is one of the Philippines’ key focus areas; the government back in 2010 had developed a roadmap to achieve universal water and sanitation services coverage by 2028. To address this, reliable and intelligent technology will be critical in enabling this transformation.

With water processes being highly energy-intensive, pumps account for a significant amount of energy consumption. Therefore, energy efficiency is not only important for effective wastewater management but also plays a crucial role in driving sustainability and costs down.

Being water-smart in our buildings and homes. We need to also go further into examining our buildings and homes. Existing systems are not equipped to meet today’s challenges, highlighting the need for increased investment in water infrastructure.

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Through the Internet of Things, water networks can access information that allows them to operate in a more predictive manner, optimizing resource use and reducing downtime, further avoiding serious business and environmental consequences.

Technology can also empower us at a household level. In response to the Manila water crisis back in 2019, a rotational water supply scheme was implemented so people in the affected areas could store water. While this helped ease the crisis in the short run, a more informed and longer-term approach to citizen action is needed to effectively tackle this issue.

Digitalization at home can help inculcate a culture of water conservation. Smart home solutions today mean homeowners can enjoy a sustainable home that is both energy- and water-efficient, and not worry about sacrificing convenience or comfort.

To work against global warming, our climate action efforts need to focus on efficient water management. The next 10 years is a critical period to build resilience and shape our water systems to meet ongoing challenges and be prepared for future crises similar to the pandemic. By collectively addressing the gaps in our water systems, we can achieve a sustainable transition that pays off for the whole nation.

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Poul Due Jensen is the chief executive officer of Grundfos, a global leader in advanced pump solutions and a trendsetter in water technology.

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