The Indian government needs to create an adequate support structure and a conducive environment for developing and using innovative start-up technologies in the water sector
UNICEF claims that around four billion people, almost two-thirds of the world's population, face water shortage for at least 30 days yearly. It forecasts that by 2030, around 700 million people could yet be displaced due to intense water security.
To tackle this, start-ups and governments globally are collaborating towards improving water security by developing innovative technologies. Intelligent water management systems, nanotechnology, membrane filtration and desalination are key water purification, conservation, and optimum usage technologies.
Several developed nations use smart irrigation systems, technology, software, and sensors to monitor and manage water resources. Through the help of mobile applications and other platforms, it becomes easier to access and share information about water resources.
Moreover, many start-ups worldwide are leveraging technology and innovation to address the global water scarcity crisis with the support of the country's governments.
For instance, the United States government has supported start-ups working on water conservation and purification through the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Singaporean government works with start-ups to develop water treatment technologies through its PUB, the national water agency, and the National Research Foundation's Water.
Similarly, the Australian administration supports water start-ups through the Accelerating Commercialization and Water for Growth programs. The government of the Netherlands has been supporting water start-ups through the Dutch Water Top Sector Policy and the Dutch Water Partnership. During the former fund's research and development in the water sector, the latter helps connect Dutch water companies with international partners
Over and all, focused efforts by governments and tech start-ups resulted in 74 per cent of the global population getting access to safe drinking water services in 2020, up from 70 per cent in 2015. However, around two billion people still need access to safely managed drinking water services. This includes 1.2 billion people who still need access to a basic level of service back in 2020.
There are lessons that India can learn from the above examples since water is a critical biological asset for our nation. The country's varied geography and reliance on monsoons serve as the primary water source for its agrarian economy. However, the uneven rainfall distribution and the monsoons' high variability make it difficult to ensure water security for all regions and communities.
Moreover, droughts and floods are common across the country. They can severely impact the lives and livelihoods of communities, particularly those already marginalized and vulnerable. They can lead to crop failures and water shortages, while floods damage infrastructure and displace communities.
India is home to 16 per cent of the global population, with just around 4 per cent of the world's freshwater resources. However, over 6 per cent of its population lacks access to safe drinking water. Reports suggest that adopting smart technologies like AI and IoT can help address water problems by detecting leaks, limiting usage, and increasing efficiency.
It is noted that around a third of the water is flushed down the toilets, though contemporary sanitary technology like dual flush technology enables people to use up to 50 per cent less water. Moreover, water-saving technologies in showers can also be used to save more than 65 per cent of water.
Smart technologies like AI and IoT also have an essential role, as they can help address water woes by detecting leaks, limiting usage, and increasing efficiency. This is why investing in energy-saving and water-saving technology is the need of the hour.
This calls for a comprehensive approach to water management, and Indian start-ups have a crucial role in it. They can develop innovative solutions to augment water security and provide affordable and affordable drinking water to the masses.
However, the start-ups can only succeed in achieving this goal if there is proper economic and strategic support from the Indian administration. Moreover, an amendment to the country's existing regulations and policies is also needed to encourage water security through start-up technology.
India exported 3,850,431 liters of water between 2015-16 and 2020-21. This was mainly divided into three categories—mineral (2,378,227 liters), aerated (602,389 liters) and natural and other water (869,815 liters).
However, the need of the hour is for advanced technology to conserve and optimize water usage in the country's agricultural sector. For example, the infamous Delhi smog in winter is reportedly due to water scarcity, which forces farmers to burn crops.
Such challenges can only be tackled through new and developing technologies. The Indian government needs to create an adequate support structure and a conducive environment for developing and using innovative start-up technologies in the water sector.
This can be done in the following ways:
1. Open Innovation: The Indian government can encourage innovation by providing funding and other incentives for research and development in water management technologies and by creating a supportive environment for start-ups. They should also present challenging problems to start-ups and allow them to submit proposals and solutions to specific issues, even bid for projects.
2. Providing financial support: Start-ups often struggle to secure funding, especially in the early stages of their development. The Indian administration can provide financial support to start-ups through capital, grants, loans, and tax incentives to improve the odds of success and reduce the perceived risks. This will encourage more start-ups due to safety and risk reduction measures introduced by the government.
3. Single window payment clearance system: This system would streamline obtaining the necessary approvals and permits for a project, reducing the time and cost associated with navigating a complex bureaucracy. It would make it easier for start-ups to access funding and implement their solutions.
4. Fast track tender: The process would allow start-ups to compete on an equal footing with established companies by reducing the time and cost associated with bidding for contracts. This could increase the likelihood of start-ups being selected to implement their solutions, which would help drive innovation in water security.
Water is a common asset essential for everyone's survival. Therefore, a single regulatory body is needed that sets common industry standards for every organization. This will ensure quality across the board and level the playing field for all enterprises in the sector.
Moreover, all stakeholders should work together to identify and resolve problems in this space. This can be done by communicating regularly and collaborating through several means.
One way of doing this is by forming a working group or task force. It could comprise representatives from different sectors, such as government, industry, and non-profits. It can identify key issues and develop action plans to address them.
Stakeholders can also collaborate on specific projects, such as water conservation initiatives or research and development programs. It will help build trust and facilitate collaboration.
A big step forward is by holding regular meetings and workshops. These can provide a platform for stakeholders to share information and best practices and identify areas where collaboration can be beneficial.
Furthermore, more incentives must be offered to corporations to encourage them to ensure that water conservation is a key part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities. This can be done through financial or tax benefits, which will, in turn provide a much-needed fresh infusion of capital into the water sector.
- Dr. Vibha Tripathi, Founder of Boon