Safe water in the age of the pandemic — Kim Jensen

SEPTEMBER 22 — Today, all of us are united against our fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Governments, industries, individuals — everyone of us must play our part to overcome this global crisis.

A lot has been said and done about the steps we can all take to protect ourselves and others in these times. The role of water stands front and centre in this discussion.

Water, sanitation and hygiene or WASH has become the mantra for preventing the transmission of the coronavirus.

The rampant use of water for handwashing and cleaning of public spaces and homes has led many to question whether Covid-19 can be transmitted through water and wastewater systems.

While there is little evidence to support the conjectures, it does bring to the forefront the conversation around water safety and quality.

Safe water is critical to sustain human health but also to strengthen water security in water-stressed areas by making sure our limited water resources are suitable for use.

This extends to the management of wastewater, which also has health as well as environmental impact if not treated properly.

Recognising its importance, Malaysia set improved management of water resources as one of its goals in its Vision 2020 to ensure adequate and safe water for all, including the environment.

As we wait for the development of vaccines to address Covid-19, it is timely to reflect on the long-standing question of how we can ensure everyone has access to safe water at a time when it’s needed more than ever.

The status quo

A significant proportion of the global population lacks access to safe water services and sanitation. In 2017, 2.2 billion people did not have access to safely managed drinking water services while 785 million people lacked even a basic drinking water service.

On an industrial level, 22 per cent of health care facilities in the least developed countries had no water or waste management facilities while 21 per cent had no sanitation service.

These statistics paint a concerning picture by itself, only worsened by the increased demand for water with the resource being our first line of defence against Covid-19.

At the same time, we are also witnessing an exponential increase in medical waste making their way into landfills and oceans, which can adversely impact our health.

There is an urgent need for water utilities and industries to step up their efforts to ensure that water and wastewater is adequately treated.

Water treatment is even more important to a country such as Malaysia, where 97 per cent of the raw water supply is derived from surface water sources which can have waterborne bacteria and parasites.

Malaysia also produces large amounts of sewage daily — 5.1 million cubic metres or the equivalent of 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools — which must be treated properly before being released into water bodies.

Leveraging technology

The evolution of technology over the years has meant that contaminants — biological or chemical — can be removed from water and wastewater networks through advanced filtration and disinfection.

However, the continuously increasing demand for water as well as production of wastewater necessitates that water utilities and industries invest in the best when it comes to technologies.

One of the latest trends which holds vast potential for the water industry is the advent of digitalisation.

When it comes to water treatment, digital technologies can significantly enhance the processes by enabling greater accuracy and efficiency.

For example, accurate dosing is a crucial part of effective disinfection as both overtreatment and undertreatment of water and wastewater pose serious health risks.

At Grundfos, we have leveraged digitalisation to develop intuitive and intelligent dosing pumps to maximise the efficiency and reliability of dosing equipment and ensure high accuracy in addition of chemicals to treat water.

Water utilities and industries can also benefit from intelligent water quality monitoring systems, which detect chemical, microbial or physical abnormalities in the water distribution networks in real-time, enabling them to proactively address issues and avoid downtime.

With water being a life-sustaining resource and part of the critical infrastructure for the likes of healthcare facilities, investing in these technologies can help enhance our responsiveness to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A collaborative approach

At Grundfos, we have always believed in a partnership approach to achieve the goal of clean water and sanitation for everyone. This is driven by a realisation that no player can impact change at the rate and scale we need by working in a silo.

It is even more applicable today as the water industry players are themselves facing challenges as a result of the pandemic. These range from operational issues such as reduced availability of chemicals for water treatment or fuel for water pumps, to additional expenses such as providing PPE to staff or providing water services to vulnerable communities through enhanced delivery mechanisms.

For the industry to continue leading innovation in water and wastewater treatment and meeting the water needs of the communities, they require support to weather the Covid-19 crisis.

For instance, funding from financial institutions or regulations from the government will go a long way to ensure that water treatment plants continue to operate and meet the increased demand for safe water.

Besides supporting the water industry players, we also need concerted efforts from the various stakeholders to drive circular water management.

With water security being a key concern across the globe along with water safety and quality, we can all benefit from reusing the resource wherever possible to ensure that we have sufficient water available to protect ourselves against the coronavirus without putting added pressure on our limited freshwater resources.

The private sector can also reduce its dependability on water supply for manufacturing by reusing wastewater, mitigating operational risks during an already difficult time for businesses.

Conclusion

We must constantly keep enhancing water treatment processes to ensure optimal water quality in water and wastewater networks, and technology will be a key enabler of these efforts to achieve universal clean water access.

However, the water crisis has been long in the making and addressing it will require us as a society to shift our approach to circular water management, so that we are not at a shortfall of one of the most critical resources for our sustenance when it is most needed.

All stakeholders must work together to ensure a secure and sustainable supply of clean and safe water to combat the pandemic and ensure sustainability in the long term.

* Kim Jensen is group senior vice president and regional managing director, Grundfos Asia Pacific region.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer(s) or organisation(s) and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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