UK water infrastructure faces serious challenges as population grows

Posted: Wednesday 2nd April 2014

Chief Scientific Advisor called on technological innovation, collaboration and partnerships to address the issue.

Chief Scientific Advisor to HM Government, Sir Mark Walport, has warned that the UK’s ageing water infrastructure will come under growing pressure over the coming years, citing global warming and an increasing population as major contributing factors.

Walport was speaking at the London headquarters of multinational professional services firm, Arup, which is hosting ‘UK-Israel Water Tech Day 2014 - Innovation Today, Innovation Tomorrow' - an all-day summit organised by the UK Israel Tech Hub at the British Embassy in Israel and the Israeli Embassy, London.

Walport said: “One of the key challenges for the UK is that we have ageing water infrastructure. There’s also the challenge of contamination and leaks - which can also be linked back to our ageing infrastructure - and the challenge around flood defences, which is particularly pertinent considering the unprecedented floods of recent months.”

According to Walport, population increases and urbanisation will necessitate increased infrastructure for services such as water. And, while this creates a challenge, it also creates opportunities for innovative companies looking to take advantage:

“There are clearly major challenges for the UK as the population grows, however, there are also endless opportunities for innovation in the water industry. Many of the challenges we face can be addressed with the right level of innovation and partnerships.”

Walport went on to underline the importance of learning from, and collaborating with innovative companies from other countries to improve the UK’s water infrastructure. Countries like Israel, which is considered to be at the forefront of water technology and innovation.

“In Israel, necessity has been the driver of innovation,” said Walport. “The UK Israel Water Tech Partnership has a significant role to play in the coming years. Increased collaboration here will be key.”

Walport’s comments come as scientists predict a significant increase in urbanisation over the coming years. Figures suggest that last year, 50 percent of the world’s population were residing in cities. However this figure is expected to grow to 75 percent by 2050.

Even without considering the impacts of climate change, population estimates indicate that up to an extra four billion people will require access to water and sanitation by 2050.

In response to Walport’s keynote, Jonathan Yates, Transaction Director at Arup commented:

There is a continuing appetite amongst the infrastructure investment community for high-quality assets in the water sector. But, there is still a significant need for private sector investment internationally that is not being delivered.”

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