Associate Editor Cristina Tuser interviews Mirka Wilderer, CEO of De Nora Water Technologies, who was recently honored as one of the top 20 Women in Water by Global Water Intelligence
Cristina Tuser: In regards to the Coronavirus - what role does water and the water industry play in this discussion, now that it has been declared a pandemic?
Mirka Wilderer: COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking-water supplies, and based on current evidence, the risk to water supplies is low, especially when water is chlorinated. And for that, we are grateful. However, when a major viral pandemic occurs, wastewater and drinking water treatment operations face increased challenges from a surge in water usage to a shortage of chemicals and biocides. We all know that disinfectants are now urgently needed in every area of the world to prevent the spread of the virus.
This rapidly rising demand for cleaning and disinfection solutions needs a fast response from the water industry. As global industry leaders, and especially in the water sector, we have a bigger part to play in this global crisis. This is a time to demonstrate our leadership and put our ideals into action. As a partner of choice with relationships around the world, De Nora immediately launched several initiatives to combat the spread of COVID-19.
In February, we supplied on-site sodium hypochlorite generation equipment to locations in Italy, China, Singapore and Japan. The systems use water, electricity and common salt to produce chlorine quickly for cleaning hard surfaces. When the pandemic began to hit Italy hard, we worked with one of our key partners, the Civil Protection department, to support local communities with additional systems.
In the United States, we’ve mobilized a containerized ClorTec on-site sodium hypochlorite generation system to the Houston area. Faced with the now-common shortage of commercial cleaning products, Fort Bend County will be able to quickly produce 100 cubic meters of low-strength hypo per day for general disinfection and distribution to residents to combat the spread of the coronavirus and protect their citizens.
Tuser: Water usage is increasing in light of the pandemic - what other implications are there for the water industry?
Wilderer: We all know that water can be a source of infection and illness if it is not managed properly. At the same time, water is also protecting us from public health risks. We have all heard by now that frequent hand washing with clean and safe water is one of the most protective measures that reduces the risk of infection from a virus like COVID-19. Water and hygiene are always linked with each other.
Water is also one of the few critical ingredients used to generate disinfectant. Whether it’s produced in factories and then transported, or made on site as needed, chlorine bleach is produced via electrolysis using water, electricity and salt. Water is key to the production of disinfectant that is crucial to managing the spread of the virus.
The water industry is responsible for delivering safe, clean water to the world. Now more than ever, we will need to remain vigilant in our jobs while also being nimble, creative and innovative during this crisis. Each of our businesses in the water sector is affected because every person and family is affected. After all, the water industry is a community of people, not products.
Tuser: Thoughts on how to better ensure water security and access?
Wilderer: Water is fundamental to human development and well-being and De Nora’s commitment to water runs deep. Nearly 100 years ago, the father of electrochemistry, Oronzio De Nora, discovered the effects of producing chlorine on-site with a simple saline solution. Today, De Nora is helping to shape the way communities address today’s deepest water challenges including ensuring water security.
We have a strong vision for sustainability and a focus on locations where water risks and impact are most relevant. Leveraging a profound understanding of the world’s water problems, our team works with partners around the world to help our communities do more with less clean, safe water.
With continual improvement and treatment technologies that are safe, simple and sustainable, we are advancing the world toward global water security. We serve the needs of the modern market with unique digitized solutions and new service models to make water easy. By integrating complementary technologies from a comprehensive portfolio for water treatment, we bring a holistic approach to address the world’s complex water problems.
Tuser: What are some common misconceptions about water scarcity?
Wilderer: Many people still question whether we really have water scarcity in the world, perhaps because they don’t experience it in their own daily lives. However, world water consumption is six times greater than a century ago. It is anticipated that by 2040, global water demand is expected to increase by more than 50%. By 2050, up to 5.7 billion people could be living in areas where water is scarce for at least 1 month a year.
The rise in the consumption of water is due to three main factors: demographics, prosperity and climate change. Extreme weather events such as increased temperature and frequent drought, mainly caused by CO2 emissions and deforestation, are making water even more scarce, more unpredictable, and more polluted.
With rising consumption, sustainability will become even more important as we look to the years ahead. Sustainability is a key pillar of De Nora’s long-term strategy and we continue to develop innovative technologies that maximize water efficiency.
Another misconception about water is that people think “water is cheap.” Because water isn’t expensive, people don’t value it as they should. This is mainly because water prices in many countries don’t reflect the real value and the scarcity level of water resources.
Tuser: How can World Water Day be leveraged as a tool to mitigate water issues as they occur?
Wilderer: World Water Day is an opportunity for our water community — those of us driven by the reality of water scarcity and security each day — to shine a light on these issues for the broader society to see. While the world is watching, recognized thought leaders can and should lead the way in mobilizing the water sector and the general public to take care of one of our most precious resources.
Recently, it was a great honor to be part of the CEO panel at the American Water Summit where we discussed the role and impact of sustainability with fellow CEOs in the water space. It was inspiring to witness companies that are battling for market share every day coming together with a common passion: driving sustainability and having an impact on the planet. Topics discussed on the panel ranged from the various technologies we offer and how these enable our customers to treat water sustainably, to the ways we are running our companies in a sustainable way doing more with less, and how considerations for sustainability impact our investment decisions.
We recognized that beyond all of the buzz words, there is an impact on the greater society that we can only accomplish if we work together, elevate the water space, become the thought leaders and inspire our organizations to offer sustainable solutions. It was incredibly encouraging to be part of this group of leaders that looks to make a difference beyond profits and market share.
World Water Day is a time for the world to share ideas on addressing the global water and sanitation crisis. Today in the midst of a pandemic, we are seeing exactly how World Water Day can shine light on water-related issues and make an impact on our daily lives.