In this context of ever-rising tension over rights and access to clean water, the United Nations Global Compact and the Pacific Institute have issued a Guidance for Companies on Respecting the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation (PDF). The key takeaway for businesses is that water scarcity and resulting human suffering — which can turn into social turmoil reverberating through local economies — don’t look likely to recede anytime soon, putting pressure on companies to be on the right side of the equation. They’d be smart to act now to mitigate potential risk.
“We think this is broader than CSR. This is not just philanthropy,” Mai-Lan Ha, a lead author of the report and senior research associate at the Pacific Institute, told GreenBiz. “It’s insuring that as a business you have enough water for operations but also ensuring that the community where you’re doing business also has access to water,” which alleviates risk. Companies are grasping the compelling business case for water stewardship, she said. “It is core to makng sure a business is successful in the future.”
Indeed, business leaders gathered last month at the World Economic Forum — not to mention recent U.S. intelligence reports (PDF) — cite water crises as likely to have significant impacts on global security and economic activity in the years ahead. The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence predicts that the next 10 years will usher in a convergence of environmental and social fallout linked to water issues, as many countries will experience “shortages, poor water quality, or floods — that will risk instability and state failure.”
That means that gone are the days of cheap water when companies could use massive volumes for operations without concern about whether there’s also enough water for local communities or host countries.
The rising number of water shortages, contaminations, floods and human dislocation and suffering resulting from water problems are not expected to abate. That means there’s risk both in water availability and stability of communities.