By: Reshaad – CEO SqwidNet

There is no doubt that we are living in times where we will see various data-driven and digital technologies being applied to help address the many social and business challenges that we face. Future sustainability of the planet remains one of the key challenges – so much so that the United Nations Development Programme has adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are a universal call to action to end poverty, eliminate hunger, eradicate disease, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The 17 SDGs include areas such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace, and justice, among other priorities. They are interconnected – often the key to success on one will involve tackling issues more commonly associated with another. Clean water and sanitation has been identified as one of these goals, and it has a wide-reaching impact on most of the other SDGs.

Clean, accessible water for all is critical for our survival, food production, essential services, and industries that we depend on. Poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively affect food security, livelihood, lifestyle choices, and educational opportunities, especially for those living in rural areas.
Globally, the UNDP have determined that:
• While 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, 663 million people still don’t;
• At least 1.8 billion people globally use a source of drinking water that is faecally contaminated;
• Water scarcity affects more than 40 per cent of the global population and is projected to rise;
• Over 1.7 billion people are currently living in river basins where water use exceeds replenishment;
• 2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation such as toilets;
• More than 80 per cent of wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or the sea without any pollutants having been removed;
• Each day, nearly 1000 children die owing to preventable water- and sanitation-related diarrhoeal diseases.

In light of this, for countries like South Africa, and for those with increasing population growth rates, water scarcity and poor management of water resources can lead to serious socio-economic issues.

IoT technologies enable a proactive approach to water management, which significantly improves efficiency and the response to water wastage risks. The deployment of sensors across the water supply and distribution network makes data available for analysis, which enables us to understand, predict, and manage malfunctions in the system before they become catastrophes. Early detection also
prevents further problems that can lead to costly fixes in the future. By monitoring data points, such as water pressure levels, vibration levels, flow rates, and leak detection, coupled with the ability to remotely close valves or redirect flow, water can be conserved and wastage eliminated if a risk is detected in any part of the supply or distribution infrastructure.

Agriculture is another area that could greatly benefit from advances in IoT technologies. The department of Water Affairs and Forestry estimate that the agricultural sector accounts for more than 50 per cent of water use in South Africa and experience water losses of between 30 and 40 per cent. Irrigation water losses are significant and it is estimated that less than 60 per cent of the water used in agriculture reaches the root systems of plants. Even more concerning is that 35 per cent of irrigation system losses, often nutrient enriched and containing herbicides, pesticides, and other pollutants, return to rivers. This has a very negative effect on the water quality of rivers and streams.

Deploying sensors and other IoT technologies in the field enable the agricultural sector to irrigate with the correct amount of water at the most appropriate time. Water absorption in the ground at root level can also be monitored, ensuring that irrigation is not only efficient but also effective. Irrigation infrastructure can be monitored for leaks, and proactive infrastructure management and maintenance can reduce water losses significantly.

IoT sensors delivering contextual data, together with the platforms for analysing these large volumes of data, help us determine patterns, glean insights, and enable deep learning about the systems in which water is used. We can now manage these systems and their water usage in a much more proactive, efficient, and sustainable manner. Artificial intelligence and machine learning continuously apply insight from data within these systems – and even across closely related systems – delivering a holistic and systems-based approach to water management and conservation.