Waterfuturism, a new perspective that is here to stay

The future influences the present just as much as the past. – Friedrich Nietzsche

Thinking about the present of water based on premises from the past will inevitably lead us to a state of permanent frustration. We should reverse the order. Diverse sectors of the economy and science bet on futurology tools and they did well. Can the water sector follow suit? 2022 will be challenging like no other year for water and utilities. The most important challenge will be to incorporate methodologies that allow us to predict the future so that we can improve our today and tomorrow.

We could debate whether futurology or futurism are a form of art, science or a discipline, or maybe all of those. But we can all agree on the fact that there are already tools and approaches available which allow us to predict future scenarios, so that we can act today and anticipate the best course of action. These tools are already being applied by the food industry, technology companies, fashion companies and banks. Some of these tools could be highly beneficial for the water sector, such as:

  • Data Science Applications
  • Predictive analytics
  • Direct visualization (trend-hunting)
  • Scenario Planning
  • Monitoring of variables and information (Clipping, Meta searches, etc)
  • Mapping futures

A new language with a future perspective

Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Tractatus Logico Philosophicus of 1921 said that “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world“. An essential task that those of us who work in the water industry have to embrace is to expand our vocabulary, incorporating a future perspective.

Those of us who do not yet master the basic notions of artificial intelligence, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, metaverse, biotechnology, climate change, cybersecurity, lifestyle, diversity, post-globalization, 5G, robotics, nanotechnology or virtual reality will soon no longer be able to understand the expectations of consumers, colleagues, friends and even the behaviour of water systems.

Those of us who are not assimilating concepts such as foresight, prospective, future studies, strategic forecasting, patterns, vectors, disruption, predictability, uncertainty, probability, intuitive logic, predictive algorithms or anticipation will not be in a position to read the future and therefore act accordingly.

10 vectors that will gain momentum in 2022

When speaking of futurology, we can define a vector as a force or element that influences the behaviour of a segment or sector, providing direction and speed. Below I’ve listed what I believe will be the most relevant vectors at the global level for the water sector.

  1. Power crisis: government and corporate decisions will be more fragmented; greater consensus will be required to promote changes.
  2. Unpredictable competition: mainstream vs emerging communication channels, pharmaceuticals vs food products, and so on.
  3. Income concentration: in emerging markets this trend will worsen.
  4. Demographic changes: in advanced economies, people will decide to have children or not based on the future of the planet, although population growth will still pose a significant danger in emerging markets.
  5. End of countries as we know them: transnational borders will become increasingly blurred in terms of information, knowledge and habits.
  6. Increase in the planet’s temperature of 1.5 degrees in the coming years, which will impact consumer habits.
  7. Cryptocurrencies: a permanent or temporary phenomenon?
  8. Shifting priorities: societies will move away from bureaucracy and more towards leisure in a bid to prioritise quality time.
  9. China will reconfigure the geopolitical and economic scenario at a faster rate.
  10. Post-pandemic: the world wonders what changes in habits will be remain with us in the long term. Teleworking. Health passports. Wearing masks. Vaccines.

2022 trends for the water sector

This year, I think we could expect the following trends in the water sector:

  • Water operators will increasingly intervene in emerging areas of interest: epidemiological surveillance, promotion of start-ups, policing and cyber security, energy production, environmental services and stimulating employment through public infrastructure work.
  • The debate over the financialisaton of water will be deepened.
  • We will see more young people committed to the values of water and diversity. Necessarily, leaders will need to pay increasing attention to the future of water, embracing flexibility and updating regulations accordingly, especially in the workplace. This will be necessary to accommodate a diverse and inclusive workforce where women occupy more prominent roles.
  • Delivering WASH services to informal settlements in emerging economies will be a priority; for this it will be necessary to rethink current strategies and come up with innovations and alternatives, such as sustainable non-sewered sanitation.
  • Climate change and conflicts will have greater impacts for water management operations. Resilience and adaptation will be crucial.
  • Social networks will increasingly affect the reputation of water operators.
  • New technologies, especially those related to the exploration of outer space, earth observation, data science and nanotechnology will be incorporated at greater speed in the sector.
  • In the aftermath of the pandemic, many water companies will either collapse, be merged or (re)instated as state-owned companies.

What are your expectations for the water sector in 2022? Join the conversation online and let us know.

Gonzalo Meschengieser

Foreign Affairs Manager at Agua y Saneamientos Argentinos