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The transformative potential of digital water for smart and sustainable cities

The transformative potential of digital water for smart and sustainable cities

Francois Frigaux, director of Metrology Business, Middle East at Xylem on how technology is transforming water delivery

In today’s age, digital transformation has trickled into nearly all aspects of our lives and all but changed every major industry. From companies relying on IoT to deliver efficient services, hospitals using telehealth services to treat patients from the other side of the world to 5G keeping us connected amid a pandemic – digital technologies are improving quality of life, significantly boosting the economy and attempting to further prosperity of the human race in the coming years.

However, while humanity makes great strides towards digital transformation, our environment on the other hand is rapidly deteriorating due to climate change, and the pressures and strains we place upon it. These changes in our climatic ecosystem have exacerbated the strain on our natural resources and made floods, storms, and droughts more prevalent worldwide – and nowhere more so than the Middle East.

Access to water and sanitation is recognised by the United Nations as one of the most fundamental human rights. So, the strain on water resources is a primary area where the impact of climate change is felt in our daily lives. At Sensus, a Xylem brand, we place water at the heart of everything we do, so we realise how essential an undisrupted water supply is to economic and social growth – communities without access to clean water cannot flourish. The prosperity of the human race and the environment are interlinked, and the impacts of climate change can hinder both. So, as we head towards a digital transformation of epic proportions, we need to leverage technologies that enable a sustainable environment while catalysing economic growth.

Governments and policymakers are already synergising innovative technologies and sustainable solutions to transform cities into sustainable and smart cities for their citizens. In 2020, global investment in smart cities is predicted to reach $124bn. Governments will get a return on their investment in the form of long-term sustainable solutions to the energy, transportation, healthcare, education, and natural disaster problems, which will lead to economic growth and improved quality of life – it is a win-win situation where the seeds governments and organisations sow now will bear fruit in the future.

Regionally, the UAE government is taking the lead in leveraging the potential of smart technologies to advance sustainability. An example of this is the “Dubai Smart City” strategy under which 100 smart initiatives and more than 1000 smart services have already been launched to digitise transport, communications, infrastructure, electricity, and economic services sectors to secure a sustainable future for Dubai residents. Under this strategy, the Government aims to transform Dubai fully into a smart city by 2021.

As governments expect to reap the benefits of investing in smart cities, placing great emphasis on water management services is of real importance. Neglecting this area can set them back as water scarcity is one of the biggest threats to economic development. According to the World Bank, the MENA region is expected to have the greatest economic loss from climate-related water scarcity, estimated at 6–14 per cent of GDP by 2050. Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic impact has exacerbated the strain on water resources while simultaneously highlighting the role of water in the development of the region as washing hands for a minimum of 20-30 seconds is crucial to prevent infection.

This is why there is no better time for governments and the utilities sector to leverage digital water technologies and strengthen economic and sustainable potential.

Regionally, the utilities sector has made great strides on the journey towards digital transformation.
The UAE is already home to one of the most advanced technological utility sectors in the Middle East; entities like DEWA are adopting AI to provide Dubai with market-leading smart water solutions. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also leading the charge by leveraging digital technologies to increase citizen’s access to water services from 87 per cent to 92 per cent.

Moreover, utility companies are supporting the government’s vision by powering smart cities with smart solutions for accurate and efficient utilisation and water management. The use of smart water networks to treat, monitor, and distribute water safely can mitigate the water strain in the region by cutting down on Non-Revenue Water losses. Today, one-third of utilities around the globe report water loss of more than 40 per cent due to leaks. Unmetered water and inaccurate billing, delayed customer leak detection, and apparent loss can be a pain point for networks. Smart water networks use real-time data to report previously unmeasured low flow water and pinpoint the location of a weakened area that could be a future leak or one which is occurring – and this is vital in reducing NRW and safeguarding water in smart cities.

A healthy environment is imperative to a healthy future, so we must act now to adopt sustainable practices that protect our water resources in the face of climate change. It is our responsibility to leverage digital technologies in a way where sustainability and innovation go hand in hand. Amid a digital revolution, human and environmental prosperity can be achieved by smart cities that have sustainable and smart water technologies at their core.

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