The Future of Water
A dearth of water is inevitable—and not just in the desert. But learning what desert-region countries are doing to address their water problems is a key component of identifying solutions that can be implemented across the globe.
With the value of these lessons in mind, a group of MIT Sloan students undertook a study tour to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) this spring to assess the challenges and opportunities that come with securing, transporting, and purifying water in those areas.
The tour's choice of Turkey and the U.A.E. provided an interesting dichotomy, says tour co-lead Sean Grundy, MBA '13. "Turkey has more water than the U.A.E., but fewer resources to put toward distribution and conservation."
As with all International Study Tours, the trip itself was preceded by six weeks of class preparation, the curriculum for which was created and organized by the students. The classes featured insights from both faculty experts and relevant industry experts, preparing the students well for what they might encounter abroad.
On the ground in Turkey, the students could see how the water companies interacted with the government and concluded that the nation's water infrastructure is not significantly different from the one that exists in the United States. What is different, however, is that Turkey is a rapidly changing business environment, particularly given the country's goal of joining the European Union. In the face of this rapid change, the existing infrastructure (as well as laws and policies) may evolve in ways that have a substantial impact on Turkey's water supply management.
The water situation in the U.A.E. is very different from Turkey's, both in terms of supply and the role of the government. "The U.A.E. is an excellent example of a desert country with very few natural water resources, but a great deal of money to spend on solutions that wouldn't be viable in other countries," says Grundy. "There is little bureaucracy and huge government support of these energy solutions."
The U.A.E. are looking beyond their huge oil reserves and are very forward-thinking about the future of energy. In an effort to keep their position as world energy leaders, they are committing money and resources to renewable energy sources such as sun and wind—and there's no shortage of those in the desert.
For Grundy, the classroom sessions and on-site experiences combined to create powerful and lasting lessons. "Seeing the physical infrastructures in person provided a better sense of how to innovate in the field of water and environmental impact," says Grundy. "As one of our guest speakers told us, it's very important to have a good physical sense of how everything works before you start trying to innovate. You need to understand how your innovation will fit—philosophically and physically—into the current system. That really impacted my thinking about how ideas for water treatment or wastewater might work in certain places."
Check out the video coverage of past Study Tours such as the Agriculture and Innovation and Access to Capital:
Read more about Water: The Next Global Challenge in the students' blogs: http://mitsloanblog.typepad.com/water_global_challenge/