At the end of 2022, UNICEF published a briefing paper entitled Critical Business Actions for Achieving a Water Secure World. In the report, Unicef states that “water scarcity is now one of the greatest global challenges to economic and sustainable development”. It predicts that by 2050, a quarter of the world’s population will be living in countries that are affected by chronic shortages of clean water.

UNICEF’s revelations aren’t surprising or new. That is why the organisation focuses on the role business needs to take in order to help protect the planet’s most precious resource. Without which, of course, there would be no business. The World Bank estimates that in countries that are affected by a water crisis, GDP could be slowed by 6%.

Therefore, in terms of economic use, UNICEF believes water needs to be valued, managed and regulated. It also believes there are significant commercial and competitive advantages to be had by tackling the problem of water scarcity.

What are the financial impacts?

Ultimately, every business is concerned with the bottom line. Many view a robust CSR policy as a nice-to-have element of the business, or simply a way of getting better PR. However, the report outlines some compelling financial reasons for businesses to take their fair share of responsibility for the prevention of water-related risks.

  • $260bn is lost globally every year because of inadequate water supply and sanitation.
  • $120bn is lost every year globally because of flood damage.
  • Globally, there have been more than 166,000 fatalities as a result of flooding and droughts over the past 20 years, which equates to an economic loss of $700 billion.
  • By 2040, $78 trillion worth of assets (more than half of the world’s current GDP) will be exposed to flood risks around the world.

It may sound cynical, but with so much money riding on water security, businesses around the world must do whatever they can to protect profitability. While applauding the efforts of individual businesses to become more water efficient, Unicef warns: “Individual corporate initiatives are not enough. We need concerted, collective action to create a more water secure world, and achieve Water Security for All by 2030.”

What can businesses do?

Unicef puts forward five ways in which companies can help lead the development of shared solutions, all of which are important to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. For example, by ensuring a plentiful supply of safe, clean water in the world’s schools, we will ensure that future generations around the world will not only personally thrive, but also be capable of becoming an efficient and productive workforce, which will ultimately safeguard the future global economy.

Unicef is calling for businesses to commit to sustainable water management as part of their long-term corporate strategies. Growing demand for water will have social, environmental and business implications, which is why it’s so important to take water into account. This includes the social and environmental impacts of the way companies use water in the production process, taking into account the needs of local communities.

Businesses need to set targets for water use, including water recycling, and wastewater treatment and discharge, as well as the protection and conservation of water sources. Monitoring business water consumption is a key part of this, including taking steps to improve water efficiency and reducing water dependency in the manufacturing or production processes.


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