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Elon Musk champions desalination at World Water Forum: "Freshwater crisis is solvable"

  • Elon Musk champions desalination at World Water Forum: "Freshwater crisis is solvable"
    Elon Musk and the Neuralink Future
    Credit: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr
  • The 10th World Water Forum in Indonesia has provided a space for dialogue for water actors and world leaders to tackle complex water challenges.

  • The speech of Elon Musk emphasizing technological solutions for water scarcity, namely desalination, draws attention beyond the water community.

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This week, Indonesia has been host to the 10th World Water Forum in partnership with the World Water Council. Held every three years since 1997, the Forum provides a unique platform for the water community to collaborate and make commitments to tackle critical water challenges and chart a path towards a more sustainable future. The Forum brings together participants from all areas, including political actors, multilateral institutions, academia, civil society and the private sector.

This year’s theme, "Water for Shared Prosperity”, emphasizes the key role of water to unite nations in the pursuit of integrated and efficient strategies to ensure a livable planet for all. On this occasion, the World Bank has released a report that explores the connection between water, economic growth, and shared prosperity.

Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo opened the High-Level Meeting held at the beginning of the Forum by emphasizing the urgency of global collaboration in managing water resources to face increasingly complex challenges in the future, describing water as “the next oil”. President Jokowi encouraged three points: increasing the principles of solidarity and inclusiveness, empowering concrete and innovative hydro-diplomacy, and strengthening political leadership in international cooperation related to water.

The Forum has been the stage for decision-makers and water experts as they present their views, goals and proposals. In addition, grabbing international headlines was the participation of Elon Musk, who did a presentation and Q&A, as part of a broader business trip to Indonesia to launch Starlink’s satellite internet services to bring connectivity to remote areas.

In his speech, and with an optimistic style, Musk put forward his ideas to tackle water scarcity issues through technological advancements. He emphasized that desalination, once prohibitively expensive, is now cost-effective and capable of addressing water needs worldwide. Given advancements in desalination and solar energy, Musk noted that freshwater availability is primarily an issue of energy and transport. "When I talk to even very well-read, very smart people in the United States, they'll often think the water crisis is unsolvable. But in fact, it is very solvable”, he said.

Among the reactions to Musk's vision, Carlos Cosín, CEO of Almar Water Solutions and past President of the International Desalination Association, commented on Musk’s words on Linkedin, noting that he did not present any new ideas, as the water sector has been emphasizing the importance of desalination and its role in addressing water scarcity for the past 20 years.

Other reactions to Musk’s plan have pointed out that, while technically feasible and promising for developed nations, it does not address the challenge of obtaining the initial capital investment required for large-scale projects. While in wealthier countries, this is less of an issue, for developing nations, securing the necessary funds remains a significant hurdle.

Thus, while Musk’s technological optimism is well-founded, addressing the financial barriers in poorer regions is crucial for global water scarcity solutions. In this regard, the forum serves as a platform to showcase innovative solutions that are already in action, from governance and cooperation, to funding mechanisms and to addressing the impacts of a changing climate. Concrete outcomes are expected as governments and organizations make commitments to improve water management practices and invest in sustainable infrastructure. The Forum's emphasis on innovation, shared responsibility, and long-term solutions offers a promising path towards a more water-secure future.

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