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AdvocacyWater & Sanitation

The World Is Running Out of Water — But Your Big Idea Could Help

Photo by Morgana Wingard/USAID

In its 2017 ranking of the most concerning global risks for the next 10 years, the World Economic Forum placed the impending water scarcity crisis third— above “mitigating climate change” and “major natural disasters.” Pope Francis declared water “a huge problem that could lead us to another war” in a meeting with the Food and Agriculture Organization back in 2014.

This was not a hollow threat. According to a report published by the World Bank this year, groundwater is being depleted at a rate faster than it is being replenished. This means that by 2025, about 1.8 billion people will be living in regions or countries with absolute water scarcity. Already, around 4 billion people suffer from water scarcity at least one month of the year.

But there is a way out.

“When governments respond to shortages by boosting efficiency and allocating even 25% of water to more highly valued uses, such as more efficient agricultural practices,” says Dr. Richard Munang, co-ordinator of the Africa Regional Climate Change Program for the United Nations, “losses decline dramatically and for some regions may even vanish.”

In other words, if we’re smart about it, we can avert the water crisis.

Which is why back in September 2016, the 11 Heads of Government and State and Special Adviser who make up the UN/World Bank High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) called for more innovation as part of a fundamental shift in the way the world looks at water.

And to meet this call, the government of Australia and other key organizations such as the World Bank, launched the Water Data Challenge: a competition that invites innovators to share ideas on how they could enable resource-poor farmers to access and make use of affordable, timely water data, in order to manage critical water resources. The winning idea or solution could be funded with as much as $1 million to bring it to scale.

8178133190_d4762b0d3c_o.jpgPhoto by UNICEF Ethiopia

And the ideas have been rolling in. From “farmbots” to “canal drones” people from a vast array of sectors and countries have been submitting pitches of potentially life-saving interventions. These proposals imagine a world where farmers gain valuable information about water quality or quantity via remote sensors or text message, and freshwater reservoirs are created in barren, sandy lands.

The application process is still open. So if you think you might have an idea worth sharing, do it. Or get together with people from other disciplines who you could collaborate with on it — no great idea is created in a vacuum.

And of course, the Water Data Challenge board very much welcomes submissions from people who have experienced what it’s like to live in a place that suffers from acute water shortages — local solutions that derive from on the ground knowledge will be invaluable to tackling this colossal challenge.

Each and every idea has the potential to play a vital role in overturning a crisis, which would result in so much more than simply ending the water shortage.

“Access to water, fundamental as that is, is not an end in itself,” as Cofounder of and Global Citizen advocate Matt Damon has emphasized. “Access to water is access to education, access to work, access to — above all— the future we want for our own families and all the members of our human family.”

Do it for the good of humanity. Do it for a world where no one dies simply because they have no access to safe drinking water. Do it for the 663 million people without it right now. Go to and Apply today