Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Business Action for Water – Assessment of the Fifth World Water Forum held in Istanbul in March 2009

Water is a very important issue for business. Without water, there is no business. Without business, there can be no employment, no economy, and no well-being for people or society.

The Fifth World Water Forum was a successful event. It brought together many water stakeholders, including business, to examine water, which is an under-recognised challenge for the future of all societies. For the first time it embodied a UN-style political process. Heads of state, ministers, parliamentarians and local governments were able to discuss their challenges and policies among themselves and with experts and stakeholders from all backgrounds. Business worked actively to play its part.

The business community raised six core themes at the Fifth World Water Forum: urgency, opportunity, necessity, connectivity, collaboration and complexity. More information on these issues is provided below.


Water may be forgotten in the current financial crisis but it is an essential element for recovery, poverty alleviation, health and a secure future. Governments need to give safe water and its distribution a much higher priority. A key message from Angel Gurria, secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), was that water must be going beyond just water ministers to include finance ministers and prime ministers.

Similarly “Businesses need to give water higher priority beyond engineers to include finance directors and chief executives. Water is everybody's business and needs a holistic approach, ” added Bjorn von Euler, director corporate philanthropy of ITT.

“The ministers highlighted the importance of sanitation and wastewater collection, treatment and reuse. The realisation of this commitment must be one of society's most urgent obligations” said Cesar Seara advisor to the president of CAB Ambiental from Brazil.

There is an urgent need for clear policies and principles for sustainable water management. Countries should be investing in water infrastructure as part of their economic stimulus efforts. Clear strategic water principles will help countries and business invest in infrastructure that will ensure a sustainable future for all societies.


Grow differently is an expression we often hear relating to carbon emissions in developing countries, but it should apply to water too. According to the latest figures released by the OECD, about half the world's population — 3.9 billion people — could be living in water-stressed areas by 2030, where health and sanitation, food and livelihoods are at risk.

In low-income countries, we must muster the political will to take action collectively to preserve water resources, provide stable economic environments that will attract investment and build sound, locally adapted infrastructure.

In high-income countries, we must find ways to use our water resources more efficiently and continue to invest in innovation.

Unlike carbon emissions and climate change, where we are struggling to make up for lost time, with water there is an opportunity to be proactive in adapting and mitigating the problems now. In doing so, businesses have the opportunity to enter markets with strong growth potential to the benefit of the whole of society.

The current global economic crisis has shown the importance of adhering to sound economic and ethical principles including the conservation of our limited natural resources. Water, a permanently renewable resource if managed properly, must be given a central role in this approach.


Business stresses that these things will only happen if certain necessities are faced. These include:

Data: The data needed to plan and manage water resources is seriously lacking and its quality deteriorating. This is due to lack of international coordination and falling investment. The technology to capture and analyse data is improving rapidly, but the efforts by governments to work together to use it are declining. This trend needs to be reversed immediately.

Value: The true importance and full value of water is still largely ignored. This vital resource needs to be recognised more strongly by politicians, business people and stakeholders from civil society alike. Much stronger commitment is needed to facing the water challenge now, while it can still be resolved.

Finance: Realistic financial flows, achieved by mobilising a combination of tariffs, taxes and transfers will lead to long-term sustainability of water services in agriculture, industry and domestic use. The financial viability of water service operations is a precondition to the objective of providing solidarity support for the poor.

Connectivity – water, energy, food, and climate change

The Water Forum highlighted the connectivity between water, energy, food and climate change. Many experts at the forum showed how water, energy and food all interact with each other. Global changes like urbanisation and climate change affect them all. Looking for holistic solutions is essential.

“Water, energy and climate change are inextricably linked we must ensure that we address all three in a holistic way. They are pieces of the same puzzle and therefore it is not practical to look at them in isolation,” said Joppe Cramwinckel, of Shell International Exploration and Production.

“Energy, food and ecosystem security is linked to water security – food security depends on efficient land and water use,” said. Juan Gonzalez-Valero, head of corporate responsibility of Syngenta International AG.

Climate change shows itself through water: disastrous floods, droughts and extreme storms. Reducing the impacts of water-related disasters is an important challenge arising from this connectivity. Pre-emptive risk management is a key to coping with disasters, especially with respect to climate adaptation. “ The adaptation measures include, for example, building defences, improved spatial planning, building regulations and risk transfer and insurance against some of the more extreme weather events,” said David Bresch, director, head sustainability & emerging risk management of Swiss Reinsurance Company.


Impact is achieved most efficiently through collaboration, a fact illustrated by the many public-private partnerships announced during the forum. Companies need to work with governments, NGOs, professional associations – and even competitors – to create real and lasting change. The developed world needs to work with the developing world to build local and regional businesses to provide transfer of knowledge adapted to local situations.

No single organization can tackle every water issue at once. Building on the idea that collaboration is key, we need to figure out where we can each add the most value. For example, one company can contribute to the energy side of the water equation through its technology that lowers energy costs, another by developing products that use less water. This idea becomes even more critical in the current economic climate. More than ever we must channel our resources and expertise more definitively, with clearer goals and more focused action.


While water in itself is simple, finding solutions to the challenges it presents is complex. Water has to provide many different functions for different people under constantly changing circumstances. Today's drought often ends in tomorrow's flood. Over-simplification of complex issues can hinder progress rather than help it.

A case in point, illustrated by the reporting of the forum, is the right to water and sanitation. Business supports this and recognises the complexity. The ministerial round-table discussions on this topic should be seen as constructive progress towards a solution that needs to reconcile many different requirements in a balanced way.


Water is rising rapidly up the scale of issues at last. It still needs to be given more priority as the Istanbul forum has shown. The international business community will continue to support the efforts of governments in effectively managing and providing water to their countries.

Business Action for Water (BAW) is a partnership that brings together a comprehensive network of businesses from around the world drawn from many sectors and regions. Its aim is to profile business and industry as positive stakeholders to achieve the goals, commitments, and conclusions of the 5th World Water Forum.

BAW, comprised of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) with its local branch ICC Turkey and TOBB (the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey) , the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) with the local support from its regional network partner (TBCSD ), Aquafed, the International Federation of Private Water Operators, TUSIAD ( Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association) and the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD (BIAC), ensured that the voice of business is heard at the forum, the world's largest gathering of water experts.


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