It is said that water will be the cause of wars in the coming years. What are your views on the same?
While many people operate on the assumption that water will always be available at affordable rates, and in abundant supplies, the grim truth is that we’ll likely be hit by a water crisis in the near future. In fact, it’s already happening. In his new book, The Big Thirst, author Charles Fishman tells the story of the small US town of Orme, Tennessee, which literally ran out of water in the summer of 2007, prompting the mayor to limit town residents’ water use to a mere three hours of water service per day for months. And every few days, Orme’s fire truck was driven down the road to Bridgeport, Alabama, to fill up its 1,500 gallon tank, replenishing the town’s water supply.
Barcelona, Spain, experienced a similar crisis in the spring of 2008, and in 2010, a drought in southwest China left 1 million people without water for themselves or for their 8 million head of livestock. And even today, despite the fact that India has experienced a mind-boggling rate of modernization, not one of its major cities provides 24-hours-a-day water, most providing just one or two hours of water a day to tens of millions of residents.
Nearly every sector of the economy relies upon the availability of water and shortages could be economically devastating. Power plants, for example, use 201 billion gallons of water daily to generate electricity – that’s more than any other industry, and by most accounts, those numbers are unsustainable.
Tell us about the situation globally. how close are we to a crisis & What're your observations on India?
Regardless of industry or geography, smarter water management remains an issue faced by everyone on the planet. While the world's population tripled in the 20th century, use of renewable water resources has grown sixfold. Within the next fifty years, the world population is expected to increase by another 40-50%. With this growth – coupled with ever-growing industrialization & urbanization – demand for water could soon outpace the supply. There is a high socioeconomic cost associated with water shortage or lack of access to clean, drinkable water. As per some estimates, 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. Also, a lack of usable water would have a negative impact across all industries and in all corners of the world. Water deficits, which are already spurring heavy grain imports in numerous smaller countries, may soon do the same in larger countries like India and China.
What are the shortages due to? How do we manage the equilibrium between places with surplus and places with deficit?
It’s really a matter of supply and demand. While some areas experience flooding, others experience crippling drought. So how do we make sure we have the right amount of water in the right places at the right times, keeping in mind that treating and transporting water accounts for 2-3% of the world’s energy consumption, and that in the developing world, energy consumed to supply water may easily eat up half a municipality’s total budget? Well, there’s no easy answer, but IT is a good place to start. In order to effectively manage a resource, we must accurately measure it first. Also, a region’s ability to share information has proved effective in other areas where water distribution is a constant struggle. For example, we’re working with Sonoma, California and Cape Cod, Massachusetts in US to create collaboration platforms for information sharing so that water managers can make better decisions about resource allocation.
How can technology help in reducing wastage? Does technology have a role in maintaining ecological balance as well?
Some municipalities lose up to 40% of their water supplies to infrastructure leaks. It’s difficult to ignore those sorts of numbers in the face of massive shortages. One proven way to reduce water losses is through the use of data collection and analysis. With a large network of sensors that upload data in nearly real-time, utilities get a detailed picture of where and how water is being used. A dramatic increase in water use at a specific location at an unusual hour (say 2 a.m.) could immediately set off a warning bell of a possible leak. Utilities can also use IT to identify existing leaks that were previously difficult to find.
IT could be equally important for consumers. Various trials of smart electricity meters have shown that people change their behavior when they are aware of how much energy they use. Smart water meters would have a similar effect – detailed data on household water usage will likely help people identify ways they can conserve. In fact, our smart water meter pilot with the City of Dubuque, Iowa, has already returned promising results – citizens are realising that small modifications of daily habits can save significant amounts of water & money, & they’re making changes in how and when they use water.
What projects has IBM undertaken/plans to undertake in the coming time in this area & specifically in India? What are the diverse set of issues you are going to tackle?
We’re developing solutions for around the world and India is a very important growth market for us. We are working with our partners to see how the pieces integrate across the value chain in the region. IBM has expanded water management capabilities around the world by establishing Centers of Excellence (COE) for Water Management. The goal of these COEs is to enable close collaboration with clients and water industry experts help all types of organizations better use IT to solve water management problems worldwide. COEs identify and "bundle" technology, knowledge and expertise drawn from IBM and our international partners.
Tell us about the business case for IBM, and the revenue estimates you are looking at.
The role of IT in water management is huge: sensing and controlling the consumption and re-use of water resources, managing the infrastructure, optimizing for efficiencies and managing risk, to name a few. These capabilities stem from using existing sensing & communications infrastructure in new ways and for new purposes coupled with emerging technologies that can perform large-scale, real-time analytics, modeling and simulation on extremely large and volatile sets of information. Lux Research estimates that the water IT industry will reach around $16.3 billion by the year 2020.