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The last-mile water and wastewater market segment refers to rural or peri-urban areas often ignored by water operators.

A combination of advanced technologies and financing structures can close the access gap and bring water services to millions

Around the world, more than 785 million people have no access to basic water services, and 80% of them live in rural areas. The “last-mile” market segment refers to these rural or peri-urban areas that few water operators service because they and their funders remain unconvinced that they will be able to realize a financial return.

In the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the sixth goal is access to clean water and sanitation for all. It’s an ambitious goal, but one that’s within reach due to new technology, decentralization, and innovative financing developed to address last-mile water infrastructure.

Technological Advances

Poor water governance is a leading reason why so many people around the world do not have access to safe, clean drinking water. Water governance, or “the set of rules, practices, and processes through which the decisions for the management of water resources and services are taken and implemented, and decision-makers are held accountable,” is seeing some improvements thanks to digital applications. Technological advances like low-cost digital metering and billing platforms, prepaid water meter suites and kiosks, and water ATMs designed for the urban poor are helping bring water treatment to the underserved.

Decentralized Solutions for the Last Mile

Decentralized water infrastructure can sustainably and cost-effectively close the difficult “last mile” between safe, clean drinking water and millions of unserved inhabitants in remote or outlying areas around the world.

Instead of trying to connect remote areas to centralized plants, consider placing small, modular plants close to the point of need. By installing plants at the point of need, decentralized treatment removes the barrier of the large, upfront expense associated with pipe networks connecting to central plants. Pipelining alone routinely uses up the lion’s share of initial capital for water infrastructure projects, and pipe requires burdensome maintenance as leaks start and non-revenue water begins to add up.

Modular plants are scalable, allowing fit-for-purpose installations, and typically boast lower energy requirements than their conventional counterparts, making off-grid operation on alternative energy sources an option.

Fluence’s offers decentralized solutions – Aspiral™ wastewater treatment units and NIROBOX™ reverse osmosis units – which can be quickly shipped and deployed to wherever they’re needed.

Aspiral™ uses highly efficient membrane aerated biofilm reactor (MABR) technology, which eliminates the need for high-pressure aeration, one of the highest costs of the biological treatment process. With its exceptionally high nutrient removal, Aspiral™ can transform raw sewage into safe effluent suitable for nonpotable applications, from agricultural irrigation to toilet flushing.

Fluence’s NIROBOX™ line includes models for seawater and brackish water desalination, as well as for the purification of fresh water. Its units can be used in tandem for easy scalability.

Paying for Last-Mile Projects

Some last-mile companies are seeding businesses by training and developing local operators. There are innovative financing models, such as leasing arrangements and contract models, that require no upfront investment from the client. These include build-own-operate (BOO) and build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT), which eliminate upfront costs, freeing ambitious but undercapitalized operators to fill a market niche quickly.

With Water Management Services, Fluence covers the build, operation, and maintenance of the plants, reducing the heavy burden of the initial investment. Contact Fluence to discuss your rural or peri-urban area’s water needs.

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