Leakage in water infrastructure exacerbating water scarcity

05 September 2023 Consultancy-me.com 3 min. read
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The societal issues surrounding water scarcity could end up costing the worst-hit regions up to 6% of their GDP by 2050, according to a new study from global consulting firm Roland Berger. Most of the countries facing extreme water stress are located in the Middle East and North Africa.

Water scarcity is a growing concern around the world. It has triggered numerous humanitarian crises in recent years as climate change raises temperatures and exacerbates droughts. Last summer saw severe droughts affecting Europe, China, North America, and Africa, exemplifying the ongoing trend of worsening water shortage issues.

Despite serious issues facing the regions most prone to water scarcity, initiatives and collaborations supported by governments and leveraging technological advancements can reach viable solutions. For example, reducing water leakage will be a major battlefield in the fight against water scarcity.

Global Water scarcity

The UAE is a leader in the push to reduce water leakage, according to the Roland Berger study. With around 10% water lost through leakage, that puts the UAE ahead of the US and some European countries like Switzerland, Belgium, the UK, and France, most of which lose around 15% to 20% of their water to leakages.

“In light of escalating water scarcity and declining quality, it is crucial to take immediate action. If we fail to do so, freshwater – once viewed as a universal resource – may soon become a premium commodity,” said Pierre Bastien, partner at Roland Berger.

While the UAE has successfully cut back leakages in their water infrastructure, other GCC countries have lagged behind. Saudi Arabia, for example, sees around 20% to a full quarter of their water pilfered due to leakage. That is especially bad for a country that the study calls ‘water-stressed’, or in other words, a country with a hot, dry climate and a lack of reliable renewable water sources.

Water loss through leakages in the distribution network

Some of the solutions to the problem of water leakages presented in the study include using smart meters that can track consumption in real time, which studies have found can decrease water consumption by up to 22%.

Another potential tool for fighting water waste is imposing fines on water distributors that lose water to leakages. Enforcing monetary penalties on water companies would provide a powerful incentive to reduce leakages. Denmark, for example, was able to reduce leakages by around 8% by introducing regulations that made waterworks pay a penalty for water loss above a threshold of 10%.

“Clearly, water is one of the most valuable resources on earth. We are dependent on it not only to sustain human life but also to ensure business continuity and prosperity,” Bastien stated.

“The effects of climate change and limited funding make it difficult for our aging water-related infrastructure to keep up with demand. Investment in water infrastructure is urgently needed in order to ensure a reliable and sustainable water supply for the future.”

While the report focuses on last summer’s water-related crises, droughts this summer have again ravaged some countries in the MENA region. Droughts in Morocco are leading to a bad cereal harvest, which will likely cause economic hardship. Iraq’s river and marshlands also saw severe drought conditions this summer, leading to a continuation of a massive exodus that has seen tens of thousands of people flee the region over the last four years.