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Report by UNU using strategic foresight to study applications of AI for water-related SDGs

The United Nations University Institute on Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) has a new report which uses strategic foresight to study applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to achieve water-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The report discusses motivations, applications and opportunities related to the adoption of AI for sustainable development. AI can be used to forecast water-related disasters with higher accuracy, frequency, and lead time relative to non-AI methods, allowing for focused management of post-disaster activity.

Applications of AI in water management have:

  • The potential to mitigate significant economic loss
  • Preserve communities and ecosystems
  • Decrease mortality associated with water-related disaster

The following points are proposed within the UNU-INWEH report:

Since potential AI applications are case-specific holistic assessments of social, economic, and cultural factors should be carried out by policymakers before AI is adopted in the water sector. It is also pivotal that baseline studies are followed through to measure the implementation capacity, return on investment, and impact of intervention.

Policies regarding the use of AI for water-related challenges should be combined with capacity and infrastructure development policies to guarantee positive development results.

Capacity development policies need to address the AI and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) needs for the AI-related skill development of all water-related stakeholders.

Infrastructure development policies should address the underlying requirements of computation, energy, data generation, and storage. The sequencing of these policies is critical.

Policies should direct investments towards enabling a skilled workforce by developing water sector-related education at all levels in order to alleviate the predicted job displacement that will arise from AI-led innovation in the water sector. So as to counterbalance dependency on the private sector the skilled workforce should be strategically positioned.

It is essential for countries connected by major rivers and watersheds to cooperate in developing policies that advance the use of AI to address common water-related challenges. The challenges are cross-cutting, running from grassroots to the global level and require an understanding of the water ecosystem.

A council or agency with representation from all stakeholders should be constituted at the national level, to allow for the successful adoption of AI by water agencies. This council or agency should be tasked with the development of policies, guidelines, and codes of conduct for the adoption of AI in the water-sector.

These key policy recommendations can be used as primary guidelines for the development of strategies and plans to use AI to help achieve water-related SDGs.

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