In the Face of Water Scarcity, Creating a Water-Optimized World 

Article | HP Nanda | November 08, 2021

Our friends, our colleagues, our loved ones — more than half of the 7.8 billion people on Planet Earth — live in a city. In as soon as 30 years, less time than it takes for an oak tree to grow its first acorn, over two-thirds of humanity will live in an urban setting.

This presents new opportunity for community, togetherness, society. It will also place unprecedented strain on our natural resources — perhaps water most of all.

Already, half of the world’s 10 largest cities — Beijing, Cairo, Mexico City, São Paulo, Tokyo — rank among the 10 cities most at risk of running out of water. By 2050, nearly 2.4 billion people — one out of every three individuals on Earth — will face water scarcity, a 250% increase from today.

Solving this crisis to ensure reliable, accessible, sustainable water supplies is among the challenges of our time — one inextricable from climate change, equity, and prosperity. We have no choice, but to do it. As we do so, we will help advance so many of the other UN SDG goals. I am a strong believer, solving SDG#6 will create an enabling environment to solve all others—from health, to equity and education.

We all know, we have the tools, the data, and the technology ready to deploy at-scale now — promising not merely to address this crisis, but to build truly resilient, sustainable, affordable 21st century water systems.

My colleagues at Economist Impact this morning launched the 2021 City Water Optimization Index—a new way of thinking to empower city leaders to build the water systems of tomorrow so that we can prepare ourselves to address the water security needs of the future.

The Index, created with inputs from some of the best brains of our industry globally and sponsored by DuPont Water Solutions, examines how well 51 cities around the world — from Los Angeles to Lahore — are safeguarding their drinking water supplies. Another 50 cities are set to be added in 2022.

While other indices focus on water scarcity or water quality, this Index focuses on the factors that contribute to an optimized—and ample—water supply.  The Index creates a common framework incorporating 47 quantitative and qualitative indicators that assess how well a city’s policies and infrastructure are protecting water supply, treatment, and distribution networks.

Highlights from this inaugural Index:

  • Los Angeles earned the highest overall score in the City Water Optimization Index, followed closely by Melbourne.  Both cities are focused on sustainability and creative approaches to mitigate pending water scarcity challenges.  
  • High national income is not a prerequisite for optimizing water systems. Low- and middle-income cities frequently ranked among the top performers in at least one of the main categories in the index.
  • Cities need to think of water management as a circular process, focusing on water reuse and reclamation to mitigate freshwater shortages. Globally, nearly two-thirds of those surveyed expressed support for treating reclaimed water.
  • Measurement is vital: When something gets measured, it gets done.  41 cities have incorporated accounting and auditing of their water systems; 33 of those cities have also adopted real-time monitoring. Meanwhile, AI and machine learning have helped accelerate the translation of that data into achieving further efficiencies.

There is a common theme through these findings: That cities have a number of low-cost, high-impact policies at their disposal, which can rapidly bring substantive change to their water systems. That lower-income cities have, in many ways, become a model for how some higher-income cities can take on this water challenge. And, that as massive as this challenge may be, we are already equipped with the tools to meet it.

That’s where DuPont Water Solutions comes in. Our goal is to lead global collaboration and work with all stakeholders of the eco-system to create a more water-optimized world. In our role as a solutions provider, we offer a portfolio of sustainable water purification and separation technologies and solutions that enable water reuse and recycling, desalination and groundwater access.

Data, technology, policy, collaboration — and, perhaps most of all, courage. These are the ways we solve our climate crisis, and build the reliable, sustainable, and accessible water systems that will ensure water abundance for our communities, now and in the decades to come. 

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