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Tue April 13 2021

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Engineers call for action on water shortages

6 days Urgent action is needed to address the growing seriousness of issues concerning the world’s water resources says the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (Fidic).

Issues are causing increasing financial and social costs and making climate change and global warming worse, according to Fidic’s second report into global water sector.

Fidic’s 2021 State of the World report, Establishing the value of water - the business case for change, explores and addresses the world’s water challenges and the financial and social value that needs to be placed on water. It sets out a business case for action.

The report focuses on the expected increase in the global demand for water, the energy-food-water nexus and the challenges associated with properly charging for water and sanitation services to ensure that these are properly funded. Fidic claims that this is not the case now and it won’t be for future generations unless urgent and aggressive action is taken now.

The report highlights that millions of people do not have adequate access to clean water and/or sanitation and that millions are falling ill due to water-borne diseases every year, with many being deleteriously affected by these diseases for their entire life. At the same time, water-related global infrastructure needs are underfunded every year, it says.

To address the challenge, Fidic makes three key recommendations in the report:

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  • Prices for water, wastewater, ecosystems and stormwater services should be established with the assistance of qualified professionals in order to increase the perception of value, reduce waste and ensure that critical water systems are available for future generations. The prices should be sustainable enough to recover operational costs, allow for maintenance, rehabilitation and expansion to enable adequate use by future generations.
  • More stakeholders need to be involved in developing approaches to address water-related issues, including more local community involvement and consideration of using total-cost concepts. There also needs to be customer input, to ensure that the right projects are developed to effectively address the right issues.
  • There needs to be more constructive dialogue with governments, the private sector and NGOs to identify and implement realistic solutions in order to embrace the UN sustainable development goals and resolve the issues of those without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

Fidic chief executive Dr Nelson Ogunshakin said: “Water is critical to human life, ranging from the billions of people without adequate basic drinking water and sanitation to the growing water scarcity problem throughout the world. These issues are worsening in a world where the direct and indirect connection between climate change, environmental sustainability and water challenges is changing rapidly and we need to take urgent action to address the global challenge facing our world. This report offers some urgent actions and makes the business case for change.”

Writing in the report, Natalie Muir, general manager (water and environment) at Cardno, said: “Water supports life itself, it supports human health, our wellbeing and of course it is vital for the environment. But what is the true value of water? Can you even place a value on something so precious? We need to shift the paradigm to ensure that water is valued and managed in a manner that is sustainable, now and in the context of increasing demand and increased climate variability.”

Fidic president William Howard said that while the entire infrastructure sector, from financiers through to end consumers, will need to be engaged to deliver effective solutions to the world’s water challenges, engineers will form a key part of successful investments. “They will do so by ensuring that the right cost-effective projects are developed in the planning phase, timeframes are reasonable and quality is not compromised,” said Howard.

“Fidic and the infrastructure sector more widely needs to communicate much more clearly the importance of all elements of water in our daily lives and if the investment required is to take place, the economic and social value may need to adjust,” he said. “It should not be underestimated that the challenge of providing universal services in the water sector is not a small one and it will require government decision-makers and the public sector to invest more in solutions and for the private sector to also step up and invest to play its role. This report is part of Fidic’s ongoing effort to more broadly communicate ‘state of the world’ issues which engineers can help address,” said Howard.

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