Are we paying too little for water?
We spoke with Ilari Aho – VP of Sustainability and Regulatory Affairs at Uponor at The World Water Congress 2022 in Copenhagen, Denmark to summarise the lessons from the IWA High-Level Summit. The theme this year was "Partnerships for Smart Liveable Cities – Water as a Key to Action on Climate and SDGs.”
Welcome to the Urbanista blog where we discuss water management challenges of Nordic cities. From safe drinking water distribution and stormwater collection, to building sustainable urban living environments. The Urbanista blog is based on the Urbanista podcast episodes. This post is based on the interview with Ilari Aho, VP of Sustainability and Regulatory Affairs at Uponor Corporation, what he learnt from the IWA High-Level Summit, whose theme this year was Partnerships for Smart Liveable Cities – Water as a Key to Action on Climate and SDGs.
What’s your main take from the summit?
We all agree that efficient and transparent governance is the main driver for improving the water sector and resolving water-related problems. However, there is no one-size-fits-all decision that can be copy-pasted onto any context. Governance needs to be improved, but this must be bottom up – engaging the community the governance is for.
As well as the most obvious stakeholders (government, academia, water suppliers, manufacturers) we should also consider water users, i.e., buildings and water intensive industries. Water problems won’t be resolved if we don’t engage with industrial high-consumption companies, those that invest in buildings, technologies and management systems that have a fundamentally important role in determining how much water is used.
How do we engage stakeholders?
The simple thing is to make sure we have water available all across the spectrum of stakeholders in society, from heavy users to low-income neighbourhoods. And, that the solution comes from the community. Bottom up, not top down. Engaging those that are relevant in a community. Any community should have organisations responsible for locally managing the water system, local and/or global supply chains that deliver to the water systems, and, most importantly, local inhabitants / consumers that really need to be listened to in order to understand what needs to be done.
How can the Nordic region begin to deal with city water management?
Nordic countries don’t have issues with supply but instead risks to our built environment from increased rainfall and flooding. One important thing we need to focus on is hybrid green-grey infrastructure: nature-based solutions combined with cleverly engineered, man-made systems.
For example, in Copenhagen they have combined man-made storm water run-off systems with recreational areas to create new swimming places.
Are we paying too little for water?
Globally speaking, the cost of water doesn’t cover the investment. The Nordic countries, as in much of the world, are running a renovation debt. We are behind in updating infrastructure. So, this leads to important questions. What engineering renovation solutions can we bring which will allow infrastructure to keep up to date? Secondly, how can a water rates system be designed that would realistically reflect the costs but not result in an unfair system that impacts the most vulnerable?
Where do we start?
From a social angle. Designing solutions that maintain and preserve the social acceptability (cost) of the investment that we put into the water system. That’s the only way that we can get the acceptance needed to reach the sustainability goals. But it’s not simple; the solution will be a Nobel prize winning one.
What are the sustainability goals we should focus on?One speaker today said that sustainable development goals themselves are only headlines. However, underlining these are about 160 very concrete, measurable, action-orientated targets and they are the ones we need to understand and use to define what we need to do.
As Einstein said, “simplify things as much as you can but never more than that, because then you start drawing the wrong conclusions”.