The past few years have seen an acceleration of water-related challenges – from flooding to droughts, putting an ever-bigger strain on critical water infrastructure – and bringing a need to innovate like never before.
Water is also one of the biggest themes of interest for British Expertise International members, with over half of our membership exporting services in critical water infrastructure, climate adaptation and resilience.
Internationally, there is a growing trend in the origination of projects around the construction of new water desalination and purification plants. These involve some extremely energy-intensive processes which generate a lot of carbon emissions, and countries are grappling to balance the need to achieve targets set by the 2015 Paris Agreement with the need to make more water available for industry and general population alike.
UK plc is well placed to support international markets in their efforts to ensure water availability, as we are regarded as one of the top countries in the sector - in terms of how we foster innovation, collect and use data, and ensure security of critical infrastructure. Last week we were pleased to partner with the UK Department for Business and Trade in hosting two events either side of the World Water-Tech Innovation Summit, which I also had the pleasure of attending.
For those of you who aren’t aware of last week’s conference, the World Water-Tech Innovation Summit is an annual networking and knowledge-sharing gathering in London for water companies, regulators, engineering firms, technology giants, investors and innovators in the water sector. The conference provided an excellent opportunity to discuss shared learning around water sector decarbonisation and resilience. Achieving net zero in water production and improving water infrastructure resilience must go hand in hand; the urgent need to decarbonise must be tackled in tandem with supporting increased demand for water availability driven by rapid urbanisation, challenges of resource management and climate change shocks. The recurring theme was the need for more cross-sector collaboration and knowledge exchange - especially between the energy and water sectors, which are becoming ever more co-dependent.
The events we hosted either side of the conference provided an opportunity for our members to engage directly with the visiting delegates from Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Peru, Mexico, Kuwait, India and the Philippines to discuss some of the market-leading UK innovations and solutions in the water sector. Of course, technology and innovation are just part of the story, and it was striking to learn how water and housing ministries in different countries use diverse techniques to encourage their customers to change their behaviours to use water more efficiently - from installing prepaid water metres (just imagine if that were to happen in the UK!) to public information campaigns targeting socio-psychological factors.
The end of the week saw us host a roundtable discussion with members of the India delegation, which brought to the fore challenges faced by critical water infrastructure in a massive market with devolved decision making. The scale of the problem is immense. NITI Aayog's Water Index Report revealed that out of India’s 1.2 billion population, more than 600 million people undergo extreme water stress and circa 200,000 people die every year due to lack of safe water. Almost 77% of the sewage being discharged into the rivers in India is untreated, which is further depleting the water resource. It is estimated that $2,500 billion in investments are required to bridge the expected water supply gap by 2030. The individual states’ municipal corporations operate separate bureaucratic systems, making it challenging to secure investment to embed new technologies at scale. However, the roundtable participants identified some potential solutions and next steps, including a new DBT-led platform to create partnerships between Indian and UK organisations at a micro level and technical working groups focused in areas such as energy transition, remote sensing and catalytic protection. British Expertise International looks forward to supporting this initiative and helping the UK supply chain benefit from some of the new business opportunities these developments will bring.
If you’d like to participate in our future events and activities in the Water sector, please get in touch directly - I would be delighted to hear from you.
Director, Infrastructure and Climate Resilience