Building the Future: A Distinguished Lecture Series for Academics and Professionals
Newsha Ajami discusses "Harnessing the Digital Revolution to Build the Water Sector of the Future" and how it relates to smart infrastructure finance.
The water sector is at a crossroad. Facing the challenges of ageing infrastructure and a growing population, the sector has to replace and rebuild its existing network, which had enabled our nation’s social and economic growth during the past century. In the meantime, climate change and its impacts on the water cycle have demonstrated the shortcomings and vulnerabilities of our current infrastructure network and its inability to handle extreme and intensified climatic patterns such as floods, droughts, hurricane and wildfires. The need to revisit and reimagine our current infrastructure model is clear, but the path not as much. The sector can continue to invest in its current infrastructure model or alternatively embrace decentralized, distributed, and nature-based water solutions. These new infrastructure options hold the promise to increase system flexibility and resilience under climate change while taking the pressure off our existing aging infrastructure networks. However, implementation of these solutions still suffers from the rigidity and complexity of our current water use systems, and the fragmented and in some cases outdated governance structures and business model that overlay them. There is a need to build a diverse financing portfolio and novel governance tools that harnesses our evolving digital economy and could support the sector’s shifting paradigm as it transitions from centralized model to a 21st century hybrid model, encompassing both centralized and decentralized solutions. In this seminar, I will discuss some of these challenges and provide some thoughts on how the sector can take advantage of this once in a century opportunity and aim to transform itself while embracing new solutions and business models.