Upmanu Lall, Columbia University
Lars Bjork, CEO, Qlik
Brett Walton & J. Carl Ganter, Circle of Blue
Q: Can you describe the water data commitment for Annual Commitment for 2015 and how you became involved in the water scarcity situation with Circle of Blue?
A: The world’s demand for fresh water is growing so fast that scarcity is disrupting energy production, triggering food shortages, upending economic development, and threatening political stability. In fact, according to The World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2015, “water crises” rank as the number one global risk and are emerging as serious threats to people, business, the environment, and political stability across the world.
Qlik’s submission represents an approach to aggregating data on an open, visual platform that will affect the most important global decisions that underpin food abundance or shortages, energy production or shut-down, and tranquility or friction among people.
Qlik has worked with Circle of Blue for more than five years to provide a visual analysis of important water data which was presented as part of the White House Climate Data Initiative last year.
Q: What is the Clinton Global Initiative?
A: The Clinton Global Initiative was created by President Bill Clinton to bring global leaders together to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. The mission of the organization is to turn ideas into action. To date, members of the CGI community have made more than 2,900 Commitments to Action, which have improved the lives of over 430 million people in more than 180 countries. When fully funded and implemented, these commitments will be valued at $103 billion.
Q: How are partners involved?
A: Commitment partners include: Qlik, Circle of Blue, Columbia Water Center, University of California Irvine, Pacific Institute, and social media data support from Twitter. Other partners will be added as the project evolves.
Q: Who is Qlik?
A: Qlik is a leader in visual analytics. Qlik helps people to better access, present, explore, and capitalize on their data.
Q: What is the role of visual analytics in solving the global water crisis?
A: There is much more information available on access to safe drinking water than there is on overall water availability, water use, and the causes of pollution. We wanted to focus on the cause of the problem and possible solutions.
Visual analytics that explain causes and effects and display – artfully – the relative importance of different factors in the water scarcity equation can transform public discussion and political attitudes, as well as provide a sturdy base of knowledge for developing solutions.
Q: Please explain the issue of water scarcity and why it is a major challenge around the world?
A: There are three categories of water scarcity. In each case, the symptoms can be similar – for instance, a loss of agricultural productivity, poor nutrition, disease outbreaks, ecosystem damage, and job losses – but the underlying causes and solutions will be different.
Desert areas: No rain, no ready access to water supply, but human activity. Symbolically, this is the case where the local demand for water exceeds renewable supply and the problem is chronic.
Droughts: A drought is a short-term disruption in water supply. On average the place has enough water but it can experience severe, periodic shortages. Droughts occur throughout the world, but they are a serious challenge in places where dry periods are infrequent but long and persistent.
Economic Scarcity: Economic Scarcity means that a society is not rich enough to build the infrastructure to reliably deliver water for human consumption, industrial development, or farm irrigation. There might be plenty of rainfall but no means of using the water.
Q: Why is water such a significant issue in developing countries? What factors influence access to safe and reliable water sources?
A: There are many causes. Old or poorly built infrastructure that is falling apart from inadequate maintenance. Weak governance from corruption, neglect, or incompetent officials. Inefficient uses of water. High rates of water pollution due to a lack of government oversight, neglect from the business community, or no investment in sewage treatment.
There is a lack of data about water supply, and few programs that monitor how and where water is used.
Regions typically seek to develop new sources, via dams, canals, and pipelines, or they pursue purification technologies, but they do not focus on improving the protection and management of the resource.
Q: What are the most important steps to combating the water crisis, specifically in developing countries?
A: The most important steps are:
- Understand the situation: Transparency of data on water use and availability.
- Learn from cause-effect: Analysis to inform better management.
- Create sustainability policies: Develop from learnings to incentivize more efficient water use.
- Build reliable water systems: Secure financing and with transparent management and operation of the systems.
- Promote governance and engagement: Encourage political systems and institutions that reinforce sustainable policies and engage stakeholders through the data.
Q: Which regions are most vulnerable to water scarcity in the next 20 years?
A: In order of vulnerability, research shows: the Middle East, India, Mexico, the American Southwest, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, northeast Brazil, southern Europe and the Mediterranean, Chile and Peru, and the America’s Great Plains.
Q: How can Big Data address the water crisis in California and beyond?
A: California is struggling with tough choices: whether to develop additional water storage and transfer projects; whether to revise its water rights system; how to incentivize better agricultural and irrigation choices; whether to build desalination or water reuse projects in urban areas; and whether to curtail groundwater use. Much of the American West confronts the same challenges, which will require new economic practices and new thinking. These issues, however, are emotionally and politically charged. Big data provides a common platform for analyzing options, developing appropriate policies, and identifying economic winners and losers. A clear assessment of the potential outcomes and who might be hurt or helped by them allows these discussions to move to a more transparent and informed phase.
Q: What are the most important things people should know about the water crisis?
A: Their role in it: Water is used to grow food, produce microchips, and generate electricity. It is used to mine the raw materials of modern life: copper, gold, cola, and oil. Water is often considered a local issue, but because of global trade, consumption behaviors in one region can affect water availability in another. For example, India is one of the most water scarce countries in the world. However, it is also one of the largest exporters of water, through the water used to grow food and cotton. If there was a strong global push for sustainable sourcing, that would put pressure on Indian suppliers to improve irrigation systems and select less water-thirsty crops, thus reducing water scarcity in India.
There is a crisis of scarcity: There are multiple crises, all of which build on each other: a) scarcity; b) pollution, which is made worse by scarcity; and c) access to safe, reliable drinking water. Lack of access combines the problems of scarcity and pollution with the problems of poverty and governance. Rich cities and nations can build the infrastructure to deliver clean water. Poorer countries and those that lack government leadership struggle to provide basic necessities. The role of agriculture, mining, and industry must also be addressed for their role in diverting and polluting water. For example, agriculture consumes 80% of the world’s freshwater that is used by humans.
We need action now: Without addressing these root causes, there is no hope for providing clean water.
Q: What can the general public do now to help solve the water crisis?
A: Purchase energy-efficient products when replacing the old models. Saving energy saves water.
Reuse and recycle products to reduce your indirect water and energy use and subsequently lessen your negative impact on water resources.
Reduce food waste. Wasted food translates to wasted energy. Approximately 2.5 percent of the U.S. energy budget is “thrown away” annually as food waste. In addition, 25 percent of all freshwater consumed annually in the U.S. is associated with discarded food.
When and where possible, buy grains, fruits and vegetables grown with water-friendly best practices, like drip and other “micro” irrigation methods.
Demand that companies adopt business standards and practices that support the preservation of water.
Pressure governments to support water policies that acknowledge the human right to water, incentivize efficient use of water, and promote future water availability.
Q: Why is this different than data on water that has been shared in the past?
A: Drought data typically focuses on precipitation and river flows. There is a dearth of information that links the development of a drought to its consequences for economies, ecology, and society.
Q: Why did you choose to focus on groundwater?
A: Groundwater is the world’s buffer against drought. There is at least 25 times as much groundwater on Earth as water in rivers, lakes, and streams. Groundwater is a valuable reserve for times of scarce rainfall. But because groundwater filters into the ground very slowly, the rate of replenishment is also slow. Thus the risk of depletion, particularly in the world’s dry regions, is high. A long-term decline in groundwater leads to significant sustainability problems and an inability to withstand a severe drought.
Q: I understand you are starting with California. Will the first app, expected at the end of the year, be complete for California data?
A: The first app to be complete at the end of the year will include a comprehensive set of data based on California and the American West. We have been compiling data with our partners, which will leverage the large scale data management, acquisition, and sharing capabilities of Qlik Data Market to create the first dashboard app. The data and app will continue to be enhanced with additional data from all parts of the globe over the next three years of the commitment.
Q: As a partner, how does Twitter plan to provide social media support and engage the general public? What do you want people to share?
A: Social conversations have become vital in all aspects of business and culture. The ability to analyze these conversations for humanitarian and human development is crucial. The app will bring Twitter data into the groundwater conversation in a variety of ways.
Existing handles and hashtags relevant to the conversation will be brought into the app for analysis and quick access.
The project will identify and create a manner (i.e. hashtag) for the public to reference as they are asked to share information about the lack of groundwater (i.e. my well is dry) and/or misuse of water resources and their location around the globe.
Twitter will provide continuous engagement between the commitment partners, developers, and consumers of the app.
Q: What do you hope bringing all the data together in this app will accomplish? What’s the goal?
A: We will build a clear narrative of how climate, hydrology, and human water consumption affect society at both the regional and national scale. This data-driven narrative will set the stage for a discussion on how government officials, water managers, businesses, and members of the public should respond to one of society’s greatest challenges.
Q: You announced a three-year commitment. How do you anticipate the app evolving over those three years?
A: The commitment partners — current and those who join us — will take steps to continually enhance and expand the application with global data and new visualizations over the three-year commitment. We will survey important agencies and data consumers and will utilize the Twitter data to provide a constant feedback loop between the public for continual enhancement of the application.