World Water Day: Leaving No One Behind

The World Water Day, observed on 22nd March every year, advocates for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. The date was declared as World Water Day after the resolution was adopted by the UN in Rio De Janeiro and was first observed in 1993. As with preceding years, a theme is assigned each year such as ‘Nature for Water’ (2018) and ‘Why Waste Water’ (2017). The themes are largely based on the most pressing global concerns of the year.

The World Water Day falls under Goal 6 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which is to ensure safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation facilities for all by 2030.

The theme for World Water Day 2019 is ‘Leaving No One Behind’ which addresses the deprivation of this basic human right faced by people due to discrimination or unavailability. The theme focuses on highlighting the issue and the reasons behind why marginalized groups such as women, children, refugees, minorities and disabled people are discriminated against. As per a UN Refugee Agency report, 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide with Pakistan being among the top three countries, hosting a total of 1.4 million refugees. These grave circumstances have resulted in increased strain on the natural resources of each country hosting refugees. The current theme aims to address how the whole application of equality and equity, with respect to water and sanitation access, requires urgent attention to the providence of this global affair.

With respect to the nature of the economy, water is of supreme importance to Pakistan. Being an agrarian economy means that agriculture constitutes for more than 25% of the GDP employing 25 million people in the industry. With 9% of the total harvested land being used for cotton harvesting, textiles contribute to about 57% of the total export revenue. This further highlights the exigencies of the adequate water conservation systems. If the wasteful exploitation of water resources continues in Pakistan, the scarcity of water would drive up the prices of cotton which itself forewarns all stakeholders and investors. As per an IMF report, Pakistan ranks third amongst countries facing acute water shortage which would result in a complete drought by 2040 if appropriate measures are not immediately applied.

Water sustainability cannot be achieved worldwide without corporate action as industry accounts for 17% of the global water withdrawal and agricultural supply chains for 70% more. In addition, 70% of industrial wastewater is discharged untreated in developing countries. This is where we, at CERB, strenuously try to induce sustainable practices in corporations and educate on the urgency of the matter.

A webinar hosted by CERB, in collaboration with Coca-Cola, discussed issues and solutions over the world water crisis. Experts from UNDP and Mountain and Glacier Protection Organization (MGPO) shared their research and strategy being adopted for water conservation in Pakistan. It was particularly pointed out that now innovation is the new way of tackling the water crisis. Strategies, whether how small, had a vivid effect. For example, UNDP installed water recycling plants at car wash stations which saved up to 500 liters of water which is equal to a 27-day consumption of an average person.

According to a UN Water Report, the economic benefits of investing in improved water and sanitation do not only give higher monetary returns for the government such as lowered health cost but also results in improved productivity of adults and reduces poverty. The WHO estimates that the global economic return on sanitation spending is US$ 5.5 per dollar invested and US$ 2.0 per dollar in case of water.

Although corporations are now investing more in water conservation and divulging their success to encourage others, the pace is still insufficient.  There is a greater need to focus on water efficiency in the supply chain, using water accounting tools to understand both the losses and the impacts therein. This will give a holistic picture and is needed to have a lasting impact on using water prudently.

Abdullah Khilji is a recent graduate in Economics from the Institute of Business Administration Karachi. With interests in Public Policy and Development, he is currently working as a Policy and Development Trainee at the Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business at PBC.