Lisa Rauter, Head of the innovationXchange
The availability of safe water is essential for health. But in the island states that neighbour Australia, being surrounded by water does not mean that safe water is available.
In fact, only 1 percent of the earth’s water resources can be used for human consumption. This ground and surface water is unevenly distributed, which can lead to the spread of disease, conflict over resources, irregular migration and slowed economic development. It also means that over 660 million people worldwide do not have access to safe water.
Addressing water availability for all is a UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 and one that is faced by all countries in the world, not just by poor communities. But if we can solve the problem in the most cost-effective and sustainable way possible, we not only help solve a global challenge, we also go some way toward creating a new economic opportunity and addressing inequality.
So what do we do to ensure that everyone has access to safe water? The Prime Minister’s membership on the UN High Level Panel on Water shows the importance Australia places on finding new ways to tackle the problem of water scarcity.
Water infrastructure is expensive and needs a reliable, consistent source. One of these potential sources is the water that exists in our air – water vapour. But how can we access it? When we do not have the answers, we take an open innovation approach, inviting others to help find potential answers to the problem – because good ideas can come from anywhere.
This open, global approach to innovation means we also build a new community of innovators around the world who can connect to solve our biggest challenges. These are individuals and organisations who may have never before turned their minds to development, or the Indo-Pacific region. This process also opens government problem-solving to new organisations and people who would not have responded to traditional tender processes, but who see the problem from a whole new perspective and can develop a really cost-effective or transformative solution as a result.
At the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs’ innovationXchange, we are looking globally for answers to the challenge of water access, in partnership with U.S.-based XPRIZE and India’s Tata group. XPRIZE is a nonprofit organisation specialising in encouraging technological advances to meet global development needs.
The innovationXchange was established to identify, test and scale new solutions to intractable development challenges. The innovationXchange also seeks to find sustainable solutions to development challenges that offer potential for viable business models, build new markets and attract additional private-sector investment for development impact – and economic return.
XPRIZE, Tata Group and the innovationXchange are together funding a prize for an affordable solution to water scarcity. The prize has stimulated solutions for generating clean water from the air, in situations where water is currently unavailable or inaccessible. In a 29 January media release, Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Julie Bishop, encouraged innovators internationally to take on the Water Abundance XPRIZE.
Water Abundance is one of XPRIZE’s first development prizes, the first launched from its new Mumbai office, and its first partnership with Australia. Through the initiative, we sought affordable solutions to address water scarcity, leveraging additional investment into our region and testing a prize competition approach to tackle development challenges. The Water Abundance XPRIZE called for new technologies that gather water from the air, powered by renewable energy. The winning technology will need to extract a minimum of 2,000 litres of fresh water per day from the atmosphere, using 100 percent renewable energy, costing no more than 2 cents per litre.
Applications closed on 28 April this year. We received 98 entries from scientists, engineers, academics, social change agents, entrepreneurs and creative thinkers from 28 countries around the world. They will then have seven months for initial solution development and 12 months to complete rounds of testing before judging by an expert panel.
Once the winner is announced, XPRIZE will help the top five finalists access advance market commitments, allowing them to test their technology in the field, at scale.
Keep an eye on our website and Twitter feed for updates on the XPRIZE finalists and the technology development process.
For more, check out this video:
About the Author:
Lisa Rauter is a First Assistant Secretary and the head of the innovationXchange. She has been with the innovationXchange since its inception. Prior to that, Lisa led the Governance and Fragile States team in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and was previously responsible for the Africa aid program for the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). She joined AusAID in 2007 as the Chief Financial Officer, holding a certified practising accountant certification, a master’s degree in applied finance and a bachelor’s degree in commerce (banking and Finance) majoring in commercial law.