How Big Data can help in solving global water scarcity challenges

Used effectively, business analytics can help public organizations monitor water availability levels and take intelligent decisions on water usage

The world’s demand for fresh water is growing so fast that water 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.

Three-quarters of a billion people have no access to clean drinking water, and the United Nations estimates that 3.3 billion people are living in areas of water scarcity—that’s almost half the population of the entire planet. 80 per cent of all sickness and disease worldwide is related to contaminated water, and by 2025, it is estimated that two out of three people will live in a water-stressed area.

Water-stressed areas aren’t just limited to developing countries, as nearly every state west of the Rocky Mountains in western USA is affected by water shortages. The most severe example is in California, which has been experiencing its worst drought in 1,200 years.


Visual analytics firm, Qlik believes that Big Data can perhaps offer a compelling solution.  Qlik CEO Lars Björk says, “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. 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.”

Groundwater levels, rainfall, river flows, global climate patterns such as ocean temperatures and atmospheric pressure, agricultural production and prices, reservoir levels, and payouts from crop insurance programs are the data sources which Qlik is bringing together in an app. The app will connect these data points with media stories and social media conversations that mention water scarcity and/or pollution, in order to gauge the intensity of a drought’s economic and social effects.
Representatives from Qlik recently attended the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting, where global leaders convene to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

The multi-partner commitment with CGI and Circle of Blue will launch with a pilot data visualization app driven by Qlik Sense with data support from Twitter, that analyzes groundwater supplies and related water flows in California and the American West. The commitment will expand its scope to national and then to global groundwater supplies, providing a visual, trusted, cumulative, and collaborative resource for decision makers, researchers, media, and the public.

Considering the commitment with Clinton Global Initiative, Qlik and Circle of Blue have worked for over five years to provide visual analytics to display important water data. “We knew Circle of Blue would be a good fit for a data partner and we added new partners to focus on how understanding access to groundwater may help sustainability to prevent critical drought. Qlik applications help them to gain visibility into data sources that can accelerate outcomes, connect donors with recipients, and make their great work even better,” adds  Lars Björk.

He continues, “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.”

Qlik has announced a three-year commitment with CGI. The first app to be completed 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 for several weeks, 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.” says  Lars Björk.

Qlik and its partners 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. Our submission represents an approach to aggregating data on an open, visual platform that will impact the most important global decisions that underpin food abundance or shortages, energy production or shutdown, and tranquillity or friction among people,” adds Lars Björk.

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