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Regular version of the site


Water in the XXI Century

Drinking water is a strategic resource, and it’s getting more expensive all the time. Quality and availability of water depend on many factors and challenges, both global (e.g. climate change) and national ones (such as poor management of water resources). Ways to make water systems sustainable, use water more efficiently, and develop innovative products and services for the sector were discussed at HSE ISSEK conference “Foresight and STI Policy”.

People in many countries still don’t have access to high-quality drinking water. A large number of countries, among them Russia where approximately 20% of the global fresh water reserves are concentrated, are experiencing major problems with water consumption and water usage. To optimise development of this sector and promote discovery of scientific solutions, the Higher School of Economics jointly with Renova Group of Companies have launched this year a foresight project “Global Challenges and Long-term Innovation Development Trends”. The project’s interim results were presented during the round table discussion “Global Trends in the Water Sector”. The event was hosted by Ozcan Saritas and Liliana Proskuryakova, researchers at the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge’s International Research Laboratory for Science and Technology Studies. See the conference’s website for the full list of participants.

Water: public good and a product

The experts highlighted the following global challenges the humankind is likely to face in the next few decades:

Climate change and its consequences such as increased average temperature, increased length of drought periods, desertification (Mikhail Kozeltsev, HSE, ClimaEast; Attila Havas, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, Hungarian Academy of Sciences).

Growing global population, which creates problems with observing each individual’s universal right to water (Daniel Sklarew, George Mason University, USA). Sergei Sivayev (Vnesheconombank, HSE) reminded the audience that it was planned to solve problems with access to water supply and sewage in the regions of the world where they were particularly acute by 2015, but by now it’s obvious these plans will not be implemented in the foreseeable future.

Deteriorating water sources – ground water as well as open water. Daniel Sklarew described water pollution in certain areas as catastrophic (e.g. radioactive materials, “exotic” pollutants such as medical waste, and industrial waste). Attila Havas told that at the Budapest summit, 12 countries have signed an agreement to implement zero-discharge water treatment cycle. Under this system, industrial and houshold waste water is not released into water reservoirs after treatment, but recycled.

International conflicts for water are quite likely to emerge in the future, stressed Anumita Raj (Strategic Foresight Group, India). No less relevant are the “environmental refugees” problem in Northern Africa, and “water terrorism” (using dams to destroy the opposition). Kuniko Urashima (NISTEP, Japan) reminded that water may cause emergencies: 90% of disasters in Asia are connected with water.

Energy and manufacturing industries are winning the “battle for water” in Russia

There’s no integrated water resources market in Russia: like clean air, pure water is an irreplaceable but at the same time limited resource, so it’s rather difficult to handle it as a public asset and as a product at the same time, noted Mikhail Kozeltsev.

According to Sergei Sivayev, average water consumption in Russia is 180–200 litres per person a day. To compare, in European countries it’s 120–150 litres. However, Russians have no incentives to save water: they spend on water supply less than 1% of their income. Note that the upper level recommended by international organisations is 4%. A cubic metre of water in the Russian water supply system costs less than 30 roubles — cheaper than a half-litre bottle of water in shops. According to the expert, the water supply and sewage fees in Russia and in the post-Soviet countries are critically low, and regulation of water supply companies’ tariffs is politicised. At the same time, the Russian water supply sector has fewer lobbying opportunities than other infrastructure sectors, so it’s in a worse position in terms of institutional and financial resources.

Mikhail Kozeltsev noted that less-than-perfect production processes result in, among other things, increased energy consumption — while energy production requires water. Frequently wasteful, excessive use of water for irrigation leads to degradation of agricultural lands, while nitrogen and phosphate fertilisers washed away from the fields create a threat to fisheries. The current practice when allocation of water resources for hydroengineering systems must be authorised, helps the energy generation and manufacturing industries to win the “battle for water” — while communal services, agriculture, and the “ecosystem services” sector are losing it.

Inefficient management of water resources in hydroengineering systems is another major problem, continued Mikhail Kozeltsev. Due to insufficient repair and maintenance effort, hydroengineering systems are deteriorating while water reservoirs become silted — which in turn increases the risks of emergencies during spring floods. During the summer months, residents of Central Russia, due to problems with water supply, have to drill wells to water their vegetable gardens, noted Andrey Pechurkin (business incubator at the Michurin State Agrarian University). It’s a common practice, and nobody estimates how that water intake may affect the underground reservoirs.

The Japanese expert Kuniko Urashima noted that trans-border water pollution was very much relevant to Russia, since its water reservoirs were closely linked to other countries’ basins.

Water is the heritage of future generations

Speaking about water supply problems relevant to her country, Lubov Hertman (Central Research Institute for Complex Use of Water Resources, Belarus) noted obsolete sewage networks and poor-quality municipal water treatment systems. Surface rainwater which contains chemical reagents, oil components, and other pollutants gets into people’s homes, untreated. The Belarus Republic is planning to install water meters and apply other technologies (including those that will treat industrial water) on the largest possible scale, and by 2020 complete the shift to using only underground sources for drinking water supply.

In Moldova, the opposite trend was noted: according to Valentin Bordeniuc (Head of the “Water utilities development program” project, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Moldova), deep underground water reserves were declared the heritage of future generations, so the country was switching to using only surface water reservoirs for drinking water supply.

Depending on the countries’ development level, various water sector trends can be identified, said Anastasia Likhacheva (HSE). In less developed nations the water supply problems are the most acute, so they’re primarily interested in the most primitive water treatment and purification technologies. The emerging countries, first of all China and other Asian states, are interested in larger-scale infrastructure projects. Specifically, their companies widely apply combined hydroengineering technologies based on water recycling. Developed countries show the best examples of cutting-edge water treatment and energy saving technologies, and promote best water consumption practices in the society.

New approaches to water should be discussed with all stakeholders

To apply innovations in the water sector, companies need new market-based incentives and business models, noted Marcio de Miranda Santos (CGEE, Brazil). And these must be adapted to specific situations in particular countries, and taken into account in development of long-term industrial and national strategies. The expert cited a Brazilian foresight study which predicted the water shortage crisis in São Paulo (which subsequently had forced 60% of the textile companies to relocate in other regions), though the scale of the crisis was underestimated. According to Marcio, if market-based incentives for companies to apply water sector-related innovations were introduced in time, his country wouldn’t have to import water treatment and purification equipment from China and Finland now. Foresight results will only play a practical role in policy making when government officials participate in foresight projects themselves, Mr. Santos stressed.

Yury Golubkov (Renova) believed that only technological solutions which meet socio-economic needs of the society and consumer demand (“market pull”) should be supported. According to him, the formerly quite popular “technology push” strategy — when a technology is developed first, and only then the search for its application areas and potential consumers begins — is no longer relevant. The society must dictate its needs to researchers and companies, not vice versa.

Yury Golubkov demonstrated how innovative technologies allow people to save money on communal services, on the example of the Renova Group operations. Akademicheskaya managing company in Yekaterinburg installed centralised and apartment-based meters throughout the new housing project, which allowed to install an integrated centralised water temperature control system and take other steps — which ultimately enabled the residents to pay 40% less for their communal services than people in other neighbourhoods of the city did.

Anumita Raj, the expert for India, stressed that the most poor (and thus the most vulnerable) population groups need access to water more than anybody else. According to her, along with creating incentives for innovation activities in the water sector and promoting best water usage practices, it would be very important to adapt water consumption models for various population groups and various countries, according to their socio-cultural specifics.

Germany, France and the UK use very different models for government regulation in the water sector, noted Sergei Sivayev. In Germany, companies determine how much the water costs, while in France, the price is set in a contract signed by the state and the company (public-private partnership). The expert believes an independent regulator should be established in Russia.

Summarising the round table discussion, the HSE moderators thanked everybody for their contribution and suggested another session should be held to present results of the next stage of the project.

By Liliana Proskuryakova and Karina Nazaretyan