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Innovation will be central for achieving ‘water for all’

Stockholm World Water Week is coming up at the end of August, and the theme for this year is "Water for Society — Including All."

After all, the mission of "water and society for all" is essential to achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6, "to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all."

In the words of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), which convenes the event: "In the fourth year of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the 2019 World Water Week addresses the basic objective of this agenda to secure inclusive and sustainable development for all people in all countries. The U.N. is focusing on ‘no-one left behind’ as the theme for the 2019 World Water Day and World Water Development Report. In Stockholm, we are aligning this 2019 Thematic Scope with that theme, broadened to the wider perspective of inclusiveness. Water security underlies human and environmental security; access to and use of water in adequate quantity and quality are fundamental to survival and prosperity."

The fact is that current approaches are not accelerating movement toward SDG 6 fast enough. As a result, there is an increasing recognition by water practitioners that innovation is critical for accelerating progress at scale.

I am on the Scientific Planning Committee for Stockholm World Water Week (SWWW), and over the past several years there have been several changes in the event, including an increase in the industry sectors participating (along with the number of companies attending) and a move to embrace innovation as an essential enabling strategy to achieve SDG 6. The embrace of innovation is one of the most striking and encouraging evolutions for me.

This year’s SWWW focus reflects the recognition that innovation is critical to achieving SDG 6.

One event focused on innovation is the seminar "Innovations to Reach Those Left Behind: Including the Last Mile." The session acknowledges that "to date, traditional approaches have yet to deliver universal access to water and sanitation." Progress to date has proven unequal and exclusive, perpetuating significant inequalities in access, cost and service quality. Traditional centralized infrastructure and financing, business models and partnerships in many ways hinder the adoption of innovative strategies in the public utility sector such as digital applications, off-grid water generation, sludge management or localized treatment. The result is a lack of inclusion of minorities and the poor in both developed and emerging economies, leaving entire groups lagging behind and vulnerable.

Innovation in technology, financing, partnerships and business models already has proven to be cost-effective. It also holds the promise of bridging the gap to improve access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, and to encourage sustainable management of our water resources. Moreover, to identify and scale innovation in the sector, we need "outsiders" from other industries and entrepreneurs to achieve SDG 6.

The seminar will showcase innovations designed and implemented to ensure inclusive solutions with a focus on marginalized areas in developed and emerging economies. It will consider these questions:

  • How to mainstream innovation in service providers and the importance of developing and innovative organizational culture?
  • How to compare and integrate innovations to ensure comprehensive solutions rather than piecemeal approaches?
  • What criteria can be applied to compare and select innovations designed to address similar problems?
  • What type of incentives, business models, tools and talent are required to foster innovations?

This seminar also will tap into governance issues, public sector capacity, funding and financing, and the role of the young, women and marginalized groups to achieve inclusive, sustainable and resilient innovations.

Another innovation-focused event is the ImagineH2O Urban Water Prize, sponsored by Bluewater and 11th Hour Racing. (Bluewater innovates, manufactures and commercializes globally a complete range of premium reverse osmosis water purifiers for residential, business and public use; and 11th Hour Racing establishes a strategic partnership within the sailing and maritime communities to promote collaborative, systemic change benefiting the health of our oceans.) The Urban Water Challenge 2019 is a second annual global innovation competition that deploys and invests in scalable water solutions for tomorrow's megacities.

If you attend SWWW this year, you will see that innovation is an important part of many of the seminars, showcases and events. That is an encouraging development and provides hope that we will achieve SDG 6 by 2030. 

My next article will provide a recap of SWWW, along with a view towards what 2020 may hold for solving 21st-century water challenges.