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The business of water is for all

15 March 2013

Photo credit: Asian Water Development Outlook 2013, ADB & Asia-Pacific Water Forum

Mariel de Jesus and Pedro Walpole

We live in a world that is increasingly concerned with issues of security.  These may be issues of national security, community, family or personal security.  Resource security is also a concern, especially since the world’s population is dependent on natural resources – land, forests, and water – the exploitation of which has reached all known boundaries.  The rate and volume of extraction are unprecedented and, along with environmental changes on-site and impacts downstream, threaten the natural and human ecology.  Many sectors are competing for access and this competition sustains human poverty and degrades the ecology, increasing the need for proper management.  Greater governance and cooperation is needed to address the world’s many resource challenges.

Today, much of the focus is on water.  Today, 1.2 billion people, about one-fifth of the entire world, live in areas of physical water scarcity.  Projections say that by 2025, almost 1.8 billion people will be living in regions of absolute water scarcity.  Approximately 1.6 billion face economic water shortage, meaning they will not have enough money for infrastructure.  The main driver of today’s water challenge is economic growth and development.  At present, the global requirement for water is 4,500 billion cubic meters of water per day.  This demand is expected to grow to 6.9 billion cubic meters of water, exceeding current, accessible water supply by 40%.  Water, or rather the lack of it, will also be a constraint to growth; at present, agriculture uses about 70% of annual global freshwater.  But government, industry, and households will also require water: 65% more freshwater withdrawals will be required to support the growth of national economies.

Though issues of environment and natural resources have been on the discussion table for years, today, that conversation is reaching a wider audience and a new level of attention.  This may be due in part to global business identifying water as a core resource in the sustainability of any business venture.  Even if the water is not utilized in the production aspect directly, horizontal or vertical development and auxiliary services will meet questions of water sustainability.  Like land, capital, and labor, water is not at the core of production and is a risk.  Business has recognized that water is increasingly the limiting factor to the sustainability of many operations.  Given the backdrop of climate change, the pressure is on business to find ways not simply to compete in a water-stressed world but to cooperate and contribute to a greater sustainability and access to water for all.

Although stated in different ways by different speakers, this was the constant refrain and reminder during the Asia Water Week 2013 conference: Securing water for all  in Manila, Philippines last 11 to15 March and hosted by the Asian Development Bank.  While there are potential solutions available to deal with the world’s water problems, thus far, the motivation to act at the scale and level needed is not present.  The active presence of the private sector during the Asia Water Week conference may bring the necessary urgency and motivation to act on the issue.

Business must go beyond securing its access to water resources.  It must contribute to a sustainable hydrological cycle in the ecosystems it affects and it must participate in the agenda of broader security of water for all to ensure its long-term viability.  Business must also ensure that in the process of ensuring its own sustainability, it adds to the world’s sustainability and does not take from others unjustly.  If people are concerned only about their own water source, managing and securing their own supply, that is not sustainability, it is self-preservation.

Business is called to work with affected communities, with government, with broader civil society, to address its needs without compromising the global ecology.  The private sector will need to develop socialized water access in future developments if they are to be considered as genuinely greening the economy.  All stakeholders must be involved in working towards a common goal: water security.

The global community must recognize its interdependence when it comes to issues of water: the world’s population is growing and water resources are finite and vulnerable.  The United Nations declared 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation, and identified several opportunities for working together to ensure sustainable water use.

Water is critical to all life.  We are all affected by the issues of water scarcity and must therefore participate in finding solutions.  The world’s water future can only be secured through cooperation and collaboration of all.

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