IBM is inviting proposals for the next cohort of the IBM Sustainability Accelerator, which will focus on water management solutions. This programme applies IBM technologies, such as hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence, and an ecosystem of experts to enhance and scale projects focused on populations vulnerable to environmental threats.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 2 billion people live in water-stressed countries. This challenge is expected to be exacerbated in some regions because of climate change and population growth. Africa remains one of the most vulnerable continents with 418 million people lacking a basic level of drinking water service, 779 million lacking basic sanitation services (including 208 million who still practice open defecation), and 839 million still lacking basic hygiene services, according to UNICEF.
In South Africa, specifically, it is estimated that 70 million litres of treated, clean, drinkable water are lost daily as a result of the thousands upon thousands of leaks that characterise South Africa’s water piping system. This number is corroborated by comments from Luvuyo Bangazi, spokesman for the government committee dealing with the shortage, who claims that almost 25-30% of our water is being lost due to water leaks caused by failing infrastructure. Additionally, with its growing population and increasing demand for water, the government estimates that water demand will outstrip supply nationally within the next two years and that the country will face a deficit of almost 20% by the end of the decade.
In response to these developments, the government has passed official mandates requiring significant restrictions on water usage. However, these mandates have led to overcrowded communal water taps, dangerous bore-holing, and the desperate acceptance of contaminated groundwater sources that are contributing to the country’s current cholera outbreak.
In alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, IBM will look to support projects that help improve equitable access to safe drinking water for all, improve water quality by reducing pollution, increase water-use efficiency across all sectors, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, increase sanitation management and reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity, among other purposes.
The RFP process will include input from IBM across disciplines, and from representatives from organisations such as Water.org and the United Nations Development Programme. The selection criteria will consider the applicant’s capacity and readiness to support communities that are especially vulnerable to water-related threats, technical feasibility and sustainability for the envisioned solution, and transparency on measurement and reporting – along with others.
“While South Africa has made significant strides in ensuring water stewardship, it remains a water-scarce country due to the adverse effects of climate change, pipe leaks, and a rapid increase in population growth that has further strained its water resources. The country is also reeling from a new cholera outbreak that has severely impacted people’s access to decent drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene,” said General Manager and Technology leader for IBM in South Africa, Ria Pinto. “With this in mind, it was important for us to drive and secure South Africa’s water stewardship by extending our water-management solutions to organisations with initiatives that seek to remedy and drive positive impact in this regard. We are excited to collaborate with these organisations so we can increase their capacity and maximise the impact of their initiatives through our solutions.,”
This year’s RFP process will include input from Ben Mandell, Utility Services Expert at Water.org and Mary M. Matthews, Head of the UNDP Ocean Innovation Challenge and interim Head of Water and Ocean Governance Programme – together with other partner experts. They will share their input and expertise throughout the selection cycle. Kevin Pietersen, PhD, Research Fellow at the Institute for Water Studies, University of the Western Cape, has also been tasked with the responsibility of enforcing these selection criteria as a judge. Boasting over 30 years of experience in the water, environment, geosciences and energy sectors and providing consultancy and assessment services to varied water projects across Africa, Dr Pietersen will also evaluate the proposals and share input that will inform IBM’s selections.
“Innovation in the water management space is key for meeting UN SDG 6,” said Mandell, one of the judges for the water cohort selection. “Organization initiatives that are selected to participate in the IBM Sustainability Accelerator will have a significant opportunity to make an impact with the help of IBM’s technology, expertise, and network across its large ecosystem of partners.”
Non-profit and government initiatives focused on water management can apply to the RFP from 14 March until the end of May 2023. The selected participants will be announced in November 2023.