The Corporate Philanthropist: The Global Water Crisis
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Water (and Time) is Running Out
Water is our most precious natural resource. It is key to global prosperity and to political stability. Its lack perpetuates the cycle of poverty and deprivation, sowing the seeds of unrest. Water shortages cause social hardship and impede development, deepening tensions in conflict-prone regions. Too often, where we need water we find guns.
These problems are likely to grow worse. Climate change means less water for vulnerable people. As glaciers recede and rainfall becomes less predictable, droughts become more extreme. So, paradoxically, do floods.
A recent study by International Alert identified 46 countries, home to 2.7 billion people, where climate change and water-related crises create a high risk of violent conflict. Drought, a shortage of life’s vital resource, has touched off conflict in Darfur, Somalia, Chad, Israel, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Colombia, to name but a few. A further 56 countries, representing another 1.2 billion people, are at high risk of political instability. Together, these areas at risk account for more than half the world.
Meanwhile, population growth continues apace — 80 million people a year, 90 percent of them in poorer countries, driving explosive demand for freshwater. Rising global economic growth further compounds the problem.
We need to adapt to the reality that water is running out. There is still enough for all of us, but only so long as we keep it clean, use it more wisely, and share it fairly. New technologies for harvesting rainfall and systems of irrigation can make a huge difference. So can more enlightened policies of conservation and water management.
All this is key to the UN Millennium Development Goals, which call for halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. The progress for clean drinking water is on track. Still, more than one billion people lack access. Projections show that the number of people without improved sanitation will have decreased only slightly, from 2.5 billion to 2.4 billion. This is a crisis of grand proportions, with enormous health, social, and economic consequences.
Governments must engage – and lead – but we also need the cooperation of private enterprise. For too long, business has been viewed as the culprit. The reality is that, more and more often, business is becoming part of the solution. I called on international business to engage in this cause at the 2008 World Economic Forum in Davos. As you will see by the positive examples included in this publication, corporations increasingly recognize the importance of water to the health of their businesses and are joining in partnerships to provide clean water and sanitation to the developing world.
A landmark United Nations Report entitled, “Water in a Changing World,” released at the fifth World Water Forum in Istanbul in March, found that between $92.4 billion and $148 billion is needed annually to build and maintain water supply systems, sanitation, and irrigation. Investing in the world’s freshwaters could be one of the keys to aiding global economic recovery.
Partnerships such as the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate are creating the framework for future collaboration by bringing together businesses, governments, universities, and NGOs to address this broad and systematic problem. I urge you to recognize that our collective future depends on how we manage our precious, finite water resources. Corporate philanthropy is an important force for sustainable social and economic progress, particularly as it relates to water.