Towards resilience: Transformation to a sustainable water future — Poul due Jensen

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AUGUST 25 — Covid-19 continues to have a profound and indiscriminate effect on all of Asia and the world. Specifically, with safe water access of utmost priority during these challenging times, it has brought global attention to how critical our water systems are when it comes to our health and prosperity. 

The pandemic has highlighted the unique challenges and issues each country faces with water, from water disruptions in cities to inadequate water infrastructure in more rural and remote areas.

A major catalyst for our water challenges is climate change. For most people, especially in Malaysia, their experience of climate change is through extreme weather events, such as intense rainfall, flooding, and drought. But it has also been a silent killer in drastically diminishing our limited natural resources amidst global warming. 

Adding to the equation, the relationship between water and climate change in the modern day is also a complex one. Water processes call for significant amounts of energy, from treating to transporting. 

The use of fossil fuels to meet this demand leads to greater greenhouse gas emissions that subsequently contribute to climate change.

This is why we must cast a critical eye and examine the vulnerabilities and inefficiencies that exist in our water systems to ensure that we make the most of the limited natural resources we have while reducing our emissions to mitigate climate change’s severity. 

As we continue to navigate the pandemic, innovation with a sustainability mindset is key to overcoming our water challenges, with a focus on building resilient communities.

Powering water access

At the top of the agenda is addressing inequality in water access. Over the years, conditions in Malaysia have improved significantly. It remains commendable that water and sanitation access has improved tenfold since Malaysia embarked on Vision 2020 back in 1991, however some important groups are still in need of aid. 

Rural communities and residents of informal settlements in urban areas still struggle with access to adequate water infrastructure. 

Remote areas lack the infrastructure to generate enough power to transport water, demanding a system that is both efficient and sustainable. Solar energy can be a game-changer to address this issue and power water pumping stations in such locations, allowing them to draw water from various sources to meet the needs of families and communities, while ensuring zero carbon footprint operation. 

In one remote Sabah village, Grundfos worked with the Rotary Club Tawau at the beginning of the millennium, where a single Grundfos solar pump system provides all of the 302 inhabitants with clean water. 

Its success has since led to the installation of renewable energy pumping systems in rural schools and clinics in east Malaysia. Similar solar-powered solutions have made a positive impact in other Asian countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and India. 

As we continue to navigate the pandemic, innovation with a sustainability mindset is key to overcoming our water challenges, with a focus on building resilient communities. — AFP pic
As we continue to navigate the pandemic, innovation with a sustainability mindset is key to overcoming our water challenges, with a focus on building resilient communities. — AFP pic

Strengthening wastewater infrastructure 

Meanwhile with rapid urbanisation in Malaysia, it is facing significant challenges in terms of water and sanitation. Malaysia generates about six million tonnes of sewage every year, most of which is treated and released into the rivers. 

Proper treatment of sewerage is paramount as about 98 per cent of Malaysia’s fresh water supply comes from surface water. The current pandemic has also led to increased wastewater production. An exponential increase in medical waste has made their way into landfills and oceans, which can adversely impact our health.

Sustainable wastewater management is one of Malaysia’s key focus areas for effective water governance. The government is planning to build 77 sewage treatment plants nationwide by 2040 under the National Sewerage Catchment Strategy. 

To address issues of universal water and sanitation services coverage, reliable and intelligent technology will be critical in enabling this transformation.

With water movement and treatment processes being highly energy intensive, pumps account for a significant amount of energy consumption. 

Therefore, energy efficiency in wastewater processes is not only important for effective wastewater management but also plays a crucial role in driving sustainability and costs down. 

Smart wastewater systems can also meet the demand for freshwater by detecting and preventing combined sewage overflows and chemicals in wastewater. 

Industry players such as Grundfos are complementing the government’s efforts by introducing new technologies to address the country’s unique challenges in wastewater treatment. 

Given that pumping stations are central to modern environmentally-friendly processes in wastewater treatment, Grundfos introduced the prefabricated pumping station back in 2019, which has been developed to optimise pumping station design and operation, and reduce energy consumption. 

Wastewater treatment also allows us to get the most out of used water by harnessing it repeatedly. Freshwater is one of the most precious natural resources that is getting scarce day by day. 

By treating and reusing wastewater, this in turn reduces water consumption, further saving water for the community. 

Being water smart in our buildings and homes

Beyond municipal water systems, we need to go further into examining the buildings and homes that make up these cities, especially as Malaysia becomes increasingly urbanised, with over 70 per cent of Malaysia’s total population living in urban areas and cities. 

However, existing systems are not equipped to meet today’s challenges, highlighting the enormous need for increased investment in water infrastructure. 

Water plays many roles in our buildings, from cooling, heating, fire protection and landscaping. Hence, it is imperative for us to examine how we can reduce the impact of our built environment, especially in the face of rapid urbanisation.

To tackle this, companies like Grundfos have been tirelessly pursuing digitalisation and intelligence to come up with water solutions that are more intuitive and connected, enabling greater water and energy efficiency by only using these resources when demand calls for it. 

Through the Internet of Things, advanced real-time data collection and sensors, water networks can access information that allows them to operate in a more predictive manner. 

This not only optimises resource use but also helps reduce downtime, further avoiding serious business and environmental consequences.

Technology can also empower Malaysia at a household level. The advancement of smart home solutions today now means that homeowners can enjoy a sustainable home that is both energy and water efficient, and not worry about sacrificing convenience or comfort. 

The future of water

In order to work against the trajectory of global warming, our climate action efforts need to focus on efficient water management. 

The next 10 years is a critical period to build resilience and shape our water systems to meet ongoing challenges and be prepared for future crises similar to the pandemic. 

This transition not only calls for a number of technological changes, but also acknowledging that everyone has a part to play — whether it is the government, businesses, communities, or people, moving from passive consumers to playing a more active role in managing our water demand wisely. 

By ensuring a collective approach in addressing the gaps in our water systems, we can achieve a sustainable transition that pays off for the whole nation.

* Poul due Jensen is the CEO of Grundfos.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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