Water crisis underestimated but offers private sector opportunities

The magnitude of the global water crisis and the risks associated with it have been greatly underestimated, but the issue is opening up a number of business opportunities to the private sector, according to a new report.

The report, called The Global Water Crisis: Addressing an Urgent Security Issue, suggests that despite slow economic development and investment in science, there is significant potential for investment, research and development in water technologies, systems, treatment, use and productivity.

“Advances in technology, innovation and best practices are needed in order to keep pace with the current rate of growth to be able to meet rising levels of water demand, decreasing water availability and aging urban water infrastructure”, the report states.

“Advances in technologies and development offer multiple opportunities for involvement of the private sector in meeting the world’s water needs, and the potential for public-private partnerships. Such advances will need to be integrated with national water policies”.

The report, released by the InterAction Council (IAC), claims that investment in water management has dropped by more than 25% in most countries since the late 1990s but improving water supply and sanitation would bring economic benefits.

The report adds: “Financial analysts are now predicting tremendous growth potential for the water sector, particularly for those businesses focused on efficiency, re-use and source.

“In fact, revenues of the world’s water-related businesses are forecasted to rise from US $522bn in 2007 to nearly US $1 trillion by 2020. The challenge to meet rising water demand presents myriad opportunities”.

Governments have a key role in stimulating the “Blue Economy” by fostering innovation, supporting commercialization of new solutions, reversing perverse subsidies and establishing the right price signals, the report explains.

It adds that in order to seize these opportunities, the world will also require pioneers that are ahead of governments and can show the way forward.

“Business clusters are also beginning to work together to collect, share and standardize data on water conservation and protection. For example, a group of 12 international corporations, including Nestlé Waters and The Coca Cola Company, has formed The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable to share best practises concerning water resource management”.

“Other businesses have forged partnerships with environmental organisations. SABMiller, one of the world’s largest brewing companies, has partnered with WWF-UK to address the issues of water scarcity and pollution faced by SABMiller’s local businesses and surrounding communities”.

According to the IAC, the SABMiller WWF partnership has yielded ground-breaking ‘water footprints’ with indicators of water use that consider both the direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer, and enable the assessment and reduction of water risk.

With opportunities cropping up in the midst of the water crisis, it is not the private sector that is being urged to highly prioritise the water issue.

“Although leaders and policy-makers are increasingly inundated by ‘legislative congestion’, the fact remains that inactivity in the face of a growing global water crisis cannot go ignored.

“Future generations trust us to get it right; they will drink the very same water we drink. There is, therefore, considerable urgency in creating the political will to address the root causes of the global water crisis”.

Leigh Stringer

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