Business and Global Water Loss: A Summary of The Guardian’s Live Panel

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23 Feb

Business and Global Water Loss: A Summary of The Guardian’s Live Panel

An expert panel gathered last week on Wednesday 11th February to discuss the role of business in solving the issue of global water loss. Hosted by the Guardian, questions submitted via twitter and on the Guardian website were put to the expert panel. The panel included leaders from the sectors of business, government and NGOs to discuss each sectors role and perspective on global water loss. According to the Guardian, 45 billion litres of water every day is lost in global water systems and in the England and Wales alone one fifth of water is lost before it reaches the end user. Wasteful practices poses a very real threat to a world which currently 748 million people in the world do not have access to safe water. The panel of experts aimed to cast a light on why such large losses are occurring and what can be done within different sectors to combat this growing problem.

In the water sector, losses of water can be as high as 40% (as in Goa, India). Much of this water is lost through pipe leakage, wasteful practices and out of date technology. World Bank estimates are that developing countries will need $60 billion to be spent on the water sector over the next ten years. Panelist Ching Leong, Senior Research Fellow at Institute of Water Policy at the University of Singapore argues that the private sector can have a strong role to play in places where the government cannot support such vast changes. Marco Fantozzi, from the International Water Association further argues that investing in leakage reduction usually have a return of investment of less than 2 years in most cases. Furthermore he argued that investments in pressure management can hold an even better return as they “reduce leakages but also bursts frequency (maintenance costs) and energy consumption”. Therefore, as well as improving lives for millions, investing in the water sector makes economic sense too.

A prominent theme of the discussion was the need for collaboration between government, business and NGOs to empower actors to carry out effective water stewardship. Tony Smith, chief executive for the Consumer Council for Water highlighted the effect of big businesses water wastage on the perception of the role of the individual consumer. Individuals can often be left feeling powerless as since there is such large scale waste which can lead the individual to feel disillusioned at their ability to make a difference. Businesses, therefore, must set the example for others in regards to water management. Prioritising water management within corporations requires training the business sector. Marco Fantozzi from the International Water Association instead argues that that businesses should be empowered “with the responsibility, training, practical tools and proven techniques, motivating them to perform, and inspiring them to believe that they can make a difference”. Instead of feeling powerless, we should work together to empower individuals, NGOs and businesses to believe that they have an important role and stake in the world’s water. Hannah Greig from WaterAid highlighted the importance of the “human face” of water loss, in other words, the millions of people suffering from the world water crisis must be central for policy decisions.

However, as the discussion mentioned water crises have become higher on the business agenda as seen in the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Risks Report which cited water crises as the top global risk facing the development of businesses and communities. The Guardian discussion highlighted that technology and infrastructure needs to be updated, but that also efficient water stewardship needs to be prioritised within businesses which requires a shift in perception about the importance of water. Furthermore, partnerships with NGOs and water organisations have an important role in unleashing the power of business to make a positive impact on the world water crisis.

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