Moving to a more sustainable long-term model for managing water supplies is essential if we are to avert a future water crisis. However, many countries still lack access to even basic clean water. The World Bank estimates that the poorest countries need to spend around $150 billion a year just to deliver safe and clean water for all.
In this climate, is it realistic to expect countries to achieve water sustainability? Where do we stand regarding water sustainability at the moment and what can be done to improve the situation in the future?
Water is essential to life on this planet. Yet there are signs that freshwater supplies are becoming more and more scarce. According to the UN, around 2 billion people – over 25% of the global population – already live in countries experiencing high water stress and it’s predicted that around 700 million people could be displaced by extreme water scarcity by 2030. One of the key challenges is climate change, which is disrupting the global water cycle and affecting water supplies in a number of ways.
As we move away from fossil fuels to renewables, new technologies point to a cleaner energy scheme by decreasing the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. In a planet with only 1% of fresh water, it is imperative that the new energy system pursues to decrease the water footprint (WF). Because a low-carbon footprint doesn’t necessarily mean a low water use. The water footprint (WF) is defined as the total annual volume of freshwater used to produce goods and services related to consumption.
With water making up around 70% of the earth’s surface, you might not think that water shortage would be a problem affecting us anytime soon. However, a worrying report from the World resources Institute (WRI) released last year revealed that around one-quarter of the global population face living in conditions of extremely high water stress.
Economic growth has been identified as one of the key factors contributing towards accelerating global water scarcity, as population expansion and growing urbanisation add to the pressures on finite freshwater resources. The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) published a report in 2016 looking into the potential for decoupling water consumption from economic growth – essentially, moving to more sustainable forms of water use without reducing growth – stating that half the world could face severe water stress by 2030 unless this is achieved. But how can this be done in practice and how likely will this be?
To build a water efficient society, we need to change the way we use and manage water. This is especially the case for businesses, as around 88% of the global water supply is used for commercial purposes. Companies looking to implement a sustainable water strategy should not underestimate the strength of getting their communications right, to ensure that their message reaches the necessary people in the right way. Engaging and informing stakeholders about the strategy and efforts on water management can strengthen the measures and enforce the saving potential.
With the weather warming up as we hit the spring season, it’s a good time to think about effective seasonal preparations to cope with the hotter seasons. Droughts are becoming more of an issue and not just in the hottest countries that traditionally experience them.
Businesses are responsible for 88% of worldwide water use (69% agriculture and 19% other industries) so it’s vital that they are at the forefront of meeting the water management challenges of tomorrow.