Why Do We Need To Work For Water Security?
Water is a basic human need and access to safe drinking water is recognized as a Human Right by the UN. Unfortunately, global water scarcity is a growing concern. 41% countries in the world already have water shortages. 30% people lack access to clean water. 15% do not even have enough to meet their basic needs. In last century world population has increased 4 times, water usage per person more than doubled while available potable water declined slightly. Pollution of water sources makes matters worse. A few examples – 40% of US rivers & lakes, 80% of China’s rivers, 30% of Japan’s groundwater; 50% of India’s rivers are polluted. To put the scale of human impact in perspective, India’s most revered river – the Ganges, also one of the most polluted, alone supports around 500 million people! 1.2 billion people are affected by polluted water, and it causes 15 million child deaths every year.
Water scarcity – most of it in those parts of the globe that are already poorly developed and conflict ridden – is recognized as the single biggest problem humanity faces today. With the impact of global warming, it is likely to grow worse.
The Global Risks Report 2017 recognizes Water scarcity and water related disasters as the 4th largest risk the globe faces today. Specifically, businesses are categorizing water as a major risk factor. A Deloitte report based on a CDP survey shows that 53% of industry respondents have experienced detrimental water-related impacts over the past five years and 68% believe water is a substantial risk to their business. Of these risks, 62% have the potential to impact business now or within the next five years. That is perhaps the reason why more and more businesses today are opting for Water Risk assessments and for investing in technologies that reduce their dependence on freshwater.
Given the critical nature of water and its limited supply, sound and sustainable water demand management is a must. Yet, global realities show that this is not so: water demand is fast outstripping supply. There is not a set of market and policy mechanisms in place to sustainably limit demand. One reason is that water, because of the way it is viewed by society as well as its inherent characteristics, is uniquely situated as simultaneously an economic good, a public good and a common pool resource.
By 2050, 2.4 billion more people (also more affluent) would demand more water for drinking, eating, bathing and other household functions. They would need more food – so agriculture would need more water. They would need more jobs and household products and so industry and power would need more water. The supply of freshwater, however, is a constant. This is a situation fraught with danger – a recipe for conflict, misery, loss of lives and livelihoods and threat to national security.
However, mankind need never suffer this misery. We need to manage our existing resources well so that we can provide immediate relief to the water deprived. Simultaneously there must be a consistent move towards ‘freeing up’ water so that water can be made available for reallocation.
All of us, in the many roles that we play, can contribute towards creating this humane, water efficient ecosystem. As individuals we must reduce our water footprint – by choosing low water footprint products & services; by installing water efficient products in our homes; by reusing waste water and harvesting rainwater and by preventing water wastage in every way possible. As industry leaders, we have a larger role. We must invest in technologies that minimize the water footprint of our product – not just by adopting water efficient processes ourselves but also supporting their adoption through our supply chain (including agricultural product suppliers). We must also grab the opportunities this offers – research, innovations in products and processes, skill development, financial instruments, distribution and knowledge management. For those of us in the government, the role is subtle but very important. We must create policies, rules and institutions that incentivize & encourage water efficient and equitable water distribution behaviors. Charity partners can be the extended arms of all, to use charity support for making Water Efficiency and Equity a global, cohesive, humane effort.
And this is possible….the concerted effort by countries to combat global warming has set a precedent. Many of its efforts that can be replicated in the fight against the Water Crisis. All we need is the will to fight….and the wisdom to do so before the crisis crosses tipping point.