Rising populations, improving lifestyles and changes to the global climate are all increasing the pressure on the planet’s water resources, says conservation expert Brian Richter on the BBC website. He explains why there is an urgent need for the world to embrace new ways in which it uses water. Click here to read the full article on the BBC Website. In the article he notes:
- More than one billion people lack access to safe, clean drinking water and more than half of the hospital beds in the world are occupied by people afflicted with water-borne diseases.
- More than 800 million are malnourished, primarily because there isn’t enough water to grow their food.
- Fish and other freshwater species are among the most imperiled on the planet, in large part because of the ways that we have polluted and exploited their habitats.
- The global population is expected to rise from nearly seven billion to nine billion in just a few decades, which means that more than half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030.
- In populous nations such as China and India, improvements in living standards and personal incomes are linked to greater consumption of clothing, meat, and water.
- For example it takes:
- 140 litres of water to produce one cup of coffee;
- 3,000 litres to make a hamburger;
- 8,000 litres to create a pair of leather shoes.
- On top of that, climate change will bring less rain to many regions, and cause it to evaporate more quickly almost everywhere.
At World Water Week, currently underway in Stockholm, a group of leading business, social development and conservation organisations will gather as the “Alliance for Water Stewardship” to advance a new voluntary global water certification program that will recognize and reward responsible corporations, farming operations, cities, and other water users for their sustainable use of water resources.
By developing best practice standards for managing water in a way that enables economic development in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible manner, the Alliance aims to certify “water users” who are taking major steps to minimise their water footprint and protect healthy watersheds.
So why would a large company or city to want to play by these new rules? A rapidly growing number of consumers are buying goods from companies with environmental and social credentials, giving certified products ranging from produce to beverages to clothing a competitive edge in the marketplace.
In this increasingly water-scarce world, companies are also becoming painfully aware of their vulnerabilities to water shortages, not just in their own business operations but throughout their supply chains. If barley farmers in northern China run out of water, breweries and beer drinkers throughout Asia will feel the pain.
Many companies are realising that if they can save water in their manufacturing or growing processes, they can save a lot of money, making them more profitable. Similarly, cities save costs for water treatment when the watersheds that supply their residents are maintained in a healthy condition.
Interestingly, investors are increasingly screening loan requests from cities and companies on the basis of their sustainability scores, because behaving in an environmentally and socially responsible manner translates into reduced investment risk.
Perhaps most importantly, though, is the simple fact that we have no other choice but to move toward a new paradigm for water. The maths simply do not add up any other way. We have only the same amount of water on this planet now as when life began. We cannot support seven billion, let alone nine billion, if we continue to waste and foul such a substantial portion of what we have.
Certification isn’t likely to solve all the world’s water problems, but it very well could set us onto a sustainability trajectory that could give my nightmare a happy ending.
Brian Richter is director of the Global Freshwater Program at The Nature Conservancy, a US non-governmental organisation. The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website