Freshwater is the next oil
In 2019, Chennai, one of the world's wettest major cities, ran out of water. The human-made catastrophe has gone down in the history of Chennai as ‘Day Zero’ as the government trucked in 10 million liters to help 11 million inhabitants survive a day without water. While the people of Chennai struggled for water in 2019, they regularly dread the northeast monsoons that flood the city.
‘Day Zero’ merely scratches the surface of what lies ahead for humanity should climate change and fast-depleting freshwater is not addressed on priority. Chennai stands as a stark example of the fact that ‘while some parts of the world have scarcity of water, others have over-abundance. The issue lies with the distribution of water across the world.
Therefore, it has become imperative to address this imbalance, or else it may lead to taking a heavy toll on survival, productivity, and development.
Two-thirds of the earth is water, but less than three percent of this is freshwater, of which less than 1% is available for use. Freshwater is used not only for drinking but is also a crucial resource for the industry.
Air pollution, the earth and its surface, the oceans and rivers, all play a major role in the quality and quantity of fresh water. Today’s expanding population and urbanisation have fast-tracked climate change leading to the drying up of rivers and lakes around the globe as well as the shrinking of some of the largest groundwater reservoirs.
According to United Nations World Water Development Report 2018, close to six billion people are likely to suffer from clean water scarcity by 2050. If freshwater resources are continued to be depleted faster than they can be replenished, the world will run out of safe drinking water. Experts suggest these statistics rather may be an underestimation and freshwater scarcity may be worse.
Till recent years, India has depended upon traditional and rudimentary techniques to manage water stress. However, with India being the world’s third-largest startup ecosystem across multiple sectors, it is high time to turn to them to bring in innovation and technical competence and develop solutions that are scalable and sustainable and can help contain the growing strain on freshwater resources.
From electric vehicles to harnessing solar and wind energy, young entrepreneurs don’t stop at pushing boundaries to develop solutions for tackling water issues and saving lives.
The influence of younger generations who are proving to be more environmentally conscious consumers and Indian startups are thinking about water. Indian startups are turning water risk and conservation into an upside by recognising these issues and are innovating to develop solutions that can put fresh water into efficient use or conserve it as far as possible.
Further, the tightening scrutiny on ESG performance metrics on companies in India, irrespective of size, has opened a new avenue for startups to explore as investors are eying to invest in water solution providers. India has witnessed the emergence of several successful startups working in freshwater conservation across multiple functions, be it water measurement, safe drinking water, and more. Investors too are showing greater willingness to back Indian climate startups.
One such success is Cranberry Analytics, a Pune-based startup that has been working with local authorities of Pimpri Chinchwad and Goa as well as other water utility companies to develop both on-ground and online tech solutions to map water use and water efficiency across its distribution and consumption cycle. Focused on getting water utilities (most of which are state-run and use tax-payer money), reducing cash burn, and eventually turning cash-positive. The organisation is among the very few in India providing end-to-end services in this area. Their solutions enabled revenue growth for the PCMC water department, 100% water bill distribution, boosted consumer onboarding, and reduced non-metered connections, thereby improving the overall quality of water services to consumers in the area. In the PCMC region itself, Cranberry Analytics is helping save approx. 10,000 million liters of water every year and effectively measuring approx. 95,000 million liters of water every year.
Besides Cranberry, the number of innovators coming up with technological solutions for tackling water issues and saving lives in India is growing. WEGoT provides integrated water management solutions in real-time to prevent and address the water crisis; Uravu Labs, a Bengaluru-based watertech startup, uses environmental moisture and renewable energy to create drinking water; Swajal is a Kanpur-based startup that serves mineralised water, and cleansed with ultra-filtration and reverse osmosis (RO) technology.
These startups using innovation to conserve freshwater are an example of the fact that despite naysayers, the growth trajectory for water startups is climbing up and there is high demand for innovation in this area and potential for ingenious entrepreneurs to succeed.
Afterall, as famously quoted by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, French marine explorer, passionate filmmaker, and pioneer of underwater documentaries, as well as an underwater conservationist--“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.”
Edited by Megha Reddy
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)