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Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here.

  • Water is Connected to Every Major Global Risk We Face

    By Cora Kammeyer
    February 2, 2018

    Water crises have been among the top five global risks in each of the last seven years, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). This year is no exception. ‘Water Crises’ is listed as the fifth-most impactful risk for 2018. In addition to being a major risk in its own right, water is also linked to many other of the most significant risks, social and environmental, confronting our society today.
     

    Defining Water Crises

    “Water Crises: A significant decline in the available quality and quantity of fresh water, resulting in harmful effects on human health and/or economic activity.”

    – WEF Global Risks Report 2018

    While WEF’s definition of “water crises” is focused on insufficiency, it is important to remember that the world’s water challenges are not constrained to scarcity and pollution. As we have said before, physical water risks can stem from a variety of issues, including having too much water, not enough water, or water that is unfit for use. This year’s risk report highlighted all three types of water challenges:

    • Too much water: Extreme rainfall had catastrophic effects last year. Of the 10 highest-casualty natural disasters in the first half of 2017, eight involved floods or landslides.
    • Not enough water: Extreme drought in China forced a switch from hydropower to coal-fired power, contributing to the first increase in global carbon dioxide emissions in four years.
    • Water unfit for use: Microplastic fibers are found in 83 percent of the world’s tap water.

     

    Systemic Challenges

    The most powerful insight from this year’s risk report is not just that water crises are a top-tier risk, but that water is inextricably interwoven into nearly every single risk factor explored in the WEF analysis, including:

    • Changing climate
    • Failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation
    • Degrading environment
    • Extreme weather events
    • Natural disasters

    These environmental risks contribute directly to social risks such as food crises, man-made environmental disasters, and large scale involuntary migration. Those social risks then drive social instability, leading to interstate conflict, increasing polarization of societies, and state collapse or crisis. Social instability and conflict precipitate violence, which brings us full-circle to the top risk for 2018, weapons of mass destruction.
     

    Taking Action

    Pick any risk on the list, and you can find a thread connecting it back to water. Water resource challenges both affect and are affected by all the risks expected to have the biggest impact on our world. And this has been the case for as long as WEF has been releasing this risk report.

    Given this ongoing conundrum, perhaps it is fitting to conclude by reiterating a question already posedby a colleague of mine:

    “How many more years will it be one of WEF’s top global risks before the world starts valuing water?”

    The time for taking meaningful action to address water risk is long-overdue. Corporate water stewardship alone will not solve the world’s water-related challenges, but it is a critical piece of the puzzle.  And there is no time like the present to start on your stewardship journey.
     

    More information:

    What is the WEF Global Risk Report?

    The WEF Global Risk Report is an annual publication identifying and analyzing the most pressing risks that we face. The data to support this analysis come from the Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS), which harnesses the expertise of WEF’s extensive network of business, government, civil society and thought leaders. Survey respondents are asked to rate the likelihood of each global risk on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being a risk that is very unlikely and 5 a risk that is very likely. They also rate the impact on each global risk on a scale of 1 to 5 (1: minimal impact to 5: catastrophic impact), as well as assess the connections and common drivers among the risks. Over 760 people were surveyed this year, and 48 eight percent of respondents were from the business community.

    What is the WEF Annual Meeting?

    The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting happens every year in conjunction with the report release. This year, the 48th convening, leaders from around the world meet in Davos, Switzerland to develop “a shared narrative to improve the state of the world.”

    This year, there were no sessions explicitly devoted to water crises despite it being listed as a topline risk. Several of the sessions touched on water issues, though, such as Responding to Extreme Environmental Risks and Stepping Up Climate Action.

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  • Why Companies Should Dip Their Toes in Clean Water (and Sanitation): The Private Sector and SDG 6

    By Abbey Warner
    November 29, 2017

    “While considerable progress has been made over the past decade across all areas of development, the pace of progress observed in previous years is insufficient to fully meet the Sustainable Development Goals and targets by 2030.”United Nations, 2017

    As of 2015, 29 percent of the world population did not have access to safely managed drinking water and 61 percent did not have access to a safely managed sanitation service, according to a World Health Organization and UNICEF report. Additionally, more than 40 percent of the global population is affected by water scarcity, and that number is projected to rise. Meanwhile, more than 80 percent of global wastewater is discharged without treatment.

    In 2015, the United Nations Member States committed to the 2030 Agenda, a 15-year plan to support people, the planet, and prosperity. The Agenda aims to eradicate global poverty sustainably and …»

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  • The World’s Water Challenges (2017)

    By Cora Kammeyer
    October 19, 2017

    Water is perhaps the most vital natural resource on the planet. It is necessary for human survival and a critical input into our food, manufacturing, and energy systems. It also sustains the ecosystems and climates upon which both our built and natural world rely.

    Today we are putting more pressure on freshwater resources than ever. Between a rapidly growing population and a shifting climate, water stress – and therefore water risk –  is increasing around the world. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 is focused on water, with several sub-goals related to different water challenges. We have seen promising progress, but there is much work to be done to make water sustainability a reality before the SDG target date of 2030.

    Global water stress map. Source: World Resources Institute.

    Growing Water Demand and Water Scarcity

    …»

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  • Watershed Context & Water Stewardship Goals: Why Thinking Local is Critical to Hedging Global Corporate Water Risk

    By Morgan Campbell
    October 10, 2017

     

    What do the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, destructive monsoon flooding in Mumbai, India, Hurricane Harvey’s devastating storm surges in Texas, the recent five-year California drought, and the hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico all have in common? They are all water risk events. Although they are characterized by differences in geography, they show water risks faced today are as diverse as the world’s topography and precipitation patterns. And while global pollutants, such as carbon or chlorofluorocarbons, can be addressed by global reduction initiatives, the inherently local nature of water risk requires that we weave together localized solutions to protect the future sustainability of water resources. …»

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  • How Your Business Can Play a Role in Ending the Global Water and Sanitation Crisis

    By Peter Schulte
    August 23, 2017

    No one need explain the true value of water to 54-year-old Elizabeth and her family in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.  She spends more than half her meagre salary on buying drinking water from a local water vendor, as she knows the water from the nearby lake could make her unwell, unproductive and unable to provide for her family.

    Elizabeth knows that installing a safe water supply and decent toilet close to her home and market stall makes good business sense. She’ll spend less money on buying water. And a decent toilet will increase her productivity and reduce her absence from work, because she’ll get sick less often. In the long-run, if $1 were invested in water and sanitation, an average of $4 would be returned in increased productivity.

    Imagine now that instead of Elizabeth working at an independent market stall, she works in the supply chain of a multi-national food retailer. The lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in her workplace could cost the company millions in lost productivity; every year, the equivalent of US$4 billion in working days are lost due to poor sanitation.

    …»

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  • Make Public Drinking Water Fountains Great Again

    By Rapichan Phurisamban and Peter Gleick
    June 26, 2017

    In February of 2017, the Pacific Institute released a white paper entitled Drinking Fountains and Public Health: Improving National Infrastructure to Rebuild Trust and Ensure Access, which highlighted the limited evidence of a link between illness and disease outbreaks and drinking fountains. The report found that most problems could be traced to contamination from poor cleaning and maintenance or old water infrastructure in buildings, and called for comprehensive testing of drinking fountains, implementation of standard protocols for fountain maintenance, and a nationwide effort to replace old water infrastructure, which can be the source of lead and other contaminants.

    One aspect of efforts to expand access to fountains is to take a look at current drinking fountain technology and identify features that can help ensure their quality, convenience, and reliability. Ultimately, these features can help increase public confidence and access to high quality and affordable tap water.

    …»

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  • Mobile Apps to Quench Your Thirst

    A Review of Public Drinking Fountain Finders

    By Ayana Crawford and Rapichan Phurisamban
    June 12,2017

    Public drinking fountains used to be everywhere, providing a reliable source of free, high-quality drinking water outside the home. They are a great alternative to bottled water, with its steep environmental costs and high price (200 to 1,000 times more expensive than tap water or more). Drinking fountains, however, have been disappearing from public spaces over the past few decades. Poor public perception and concerns over water quality (as illustrated in the “water fountain episode” of Parks and Recreation) have played a role in their disappearance.

    Water quality issues at public fountains, when they exist, can be traced to poor cleaning and maintenance or old piping and fixture parts. To ensure the quality and continuance of public drinking fountains, (1) they must be routinely cleaned and maintained; (2) old drinking fountains with lead parts must be replaced or new fountains installed in high-traffic areas, and; (3) modern tools must be developed to let people know how to find these fountains.

    …»

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  • Corporate Water Targets: A New Approach

    By Tien Shiao
    May 22, 2017

    Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 8.32.06 PM

     

    Water risks once again rank as one of the top 10 global risks in the 2016 World Economic Forum’s annual report.

    Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 8.22.58 PMBecause of this, more and more companies view water as a business risk and water stewardship as a solution. As such, they are looking to find ways to measure their performance and progress. However, current methods for creating water stewardship metrics that evaluate on-the-ground projects are inadequate.

    Corporate water targets are often developed with various objectives in mind. Sometimes they are used to demonstrate the company’s leadership to external audience. Sometimes they are used to inform and inspire employees internally. Sometimes they are used to align water efforts across the company’s operations in various regions. And sometimes they are used to mark the company’s contributions to …»

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  • Thirsty for Change? 4 Ways to Improve Corporate Water Targets

    By Paul Reig, Morgan Gillespy, Tien Shiao, Kari Vigerstol and Alexis Morgan
    April 12, 2017

    Context-based water targets slider cropped

     

    Water-related business risks are becoming more and more apparent. According to CDP’s 2016 global water report, 607 companies lost $14 billion last year alone due to water scarcity, drought, flood and other water risks.

    Current methods for creating corporate water stewardship targets—which often ignore the unique local context of water issues—are inadequate. For companies to succeed as water stewards, they need a new generation of targets. Such targets—based on the local context and guided by the best available science—would help ensure long-term business growth in the face of increased competition and depletion of water.

    That’s why CDP, the UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate, the Nature Conservancy, the World Resources Institute and WWF are calling for a new approach to setting corporate water targets. Our discussion paper launched today makes the case for setting context-based corporate water targets. Here are four considerations for companies looking to create more impactful water stewardship goals:

    1. Local context matters—a lot.

    …»

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  • National Geographic ScienceBlogs: National Water Infrastructure Efforts Must Expand Access to Public Drinking Fountains

    By Peter Gleick and Rapichan Phurisamban 
    March 8, 2017

     

    Modern drinking fountains chill and filter water, and let users fill water bottles (Photo: Peter Gleick 2011)

    Modern drinking fountains chill and filter water, and let users fill water bottles (Photo: Peter Gleick 2011)

    There is strong bipartisan support for expanding investment in the nation’s water infrastructure as part of a broader infrastructure effort. But there is, as yet, little agreement about what specific investments should be made. Here is one idea: expand access to high-quality and safe municipal water by improving access to drinking fountains in schools, parks, public buildings, and around public transit areas.

    Drinking fountains are an important public resource, serving as an alternative to bottled water or sugary drinks and accommodating a wide array of users, including children, commuters, runners, the homeless, and tourists. Some fountains are even designed to provide water for pets. A newly released study from the Pacific Institute, entitled “Drinking Fountains and Public Health: Improving National Water Infrastructure to Rebuild Trust and Ensure Access,” discusses the state of the nation’s drinking fountains and addresses concerns about their quality and links to illnesses. The report concludes that the risk of fountain water contamination can be reduced or eliminated altogether through improved maintenance and cleaning or updating and replacing old water infrastructure and pipes. …»

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