Home » World Water Day 2024: Access requires a sustained, collective effort

World Water Day 2024: Access requires a sustained, collective effort

by Tia

It is estimated that some 2.2 billion people do not have access to safely managed drinking water. Access to clean and safe water is a basic human right, but around the world we are falling short – as nations, as companies, as civil organisations and as communities – of meeting this life-giving need for people. 

World Water Day on 22 March, an annual United Nations observance day, seeks to highlight the importance of water and the sustainable and equitable management thereof. 

Water is a global issue that impacts every individual but also every business, with few – if any – in a position to ignore issues and challenges related to water. 

Business leaders across various sectors share their views and initiatives around water, why they regard it as a business resource, as much as a natural gift, and why everyone needs to play their part in preserving this precious resource.

Urgent investment in water infrastructure required

Since 2015, South Africa has been grappling with water shortages, largely attributed to the impacts of climate change on rainfall patterns and the lack of investment in water infrastructure. The country’s reliance on rainwater, which is becoming increasingly unpredictable and scarce due to global warming, has led to decreased dam levels and prolonged droughts, says Bridgett Majola, Head of Project Finance: Energy & Infrastructure at CMS.

“Despite efforts over the past two decades to address infrastructure needs, South Africa’s water systems are now facing a crisis marked by inefficiencies, water scarcity, and the effects of climate change. The urgent need for investment in water infrastructure is evident, with billions required over the next decade to upgrade existing systems and build new infrastructure to support the growing population and economy,” says Majola. 

“The Department of Water and Sanitation acknowledges the shortfall in investment and the critical importance of securing a dependable water supply for the nation’s future. Recent strides in water projects signal a positive shift towards addressing these pressing challenges.”

Global Risks Report 2024 highlights need to address water insecurity

Water insecurity is manifesting at a local, regional and global level as a result of mismanagement of critical natural resources, made worse by climate change (including drought, desertification), and/or a lack of suitable infrastructure. According to the Global Risks Report 2024, by Marsh McLennan, countries are increasingly grappling with the impacts of record-breaking extreme weather, as climate-change adaptation efforts and resources fall short of the type, scale and intensity of climate-related events already taking place.  While these changes emerge comparatively silently, with their effects building over the long term, impacts are felt on a systemic level, intensifying impacts to food, water and health security. 

Significant environmental and planetary changes are expected to radically impact economic growth over the next decade, driving food, water and health insecurity. Immediate impacts could reduce agricultural productivity and potentially cause simultaneous harvest failures in key regions. On the international stage, changes to agricultural productivity and water availability could alter global trade patterns and alliances, or even become a bargaining chip in the contentious management of migration flows between host countries.

Small changes can make a big difference

Sustainability is a growing priority for almost every industry on the planet right now and hospitality is no exception. That’s hardly surprising. Apart from a desire to act as good corporate citizens, it’s also something that the industry’s customers increasingly demand. 

According to Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront’s General Manager, Clinton Thom, in the hospitality industry ‘’When it comes to making sustainability-driven changes from an operational perspective, small changes can make a big difference. For instance, simply measuring energy and water usage as well as waste can give hotel managers and operators a baseline from which they can start making improvements. Those improvements frequently don’t require major retrofits either.”

“A good example of this is water usage. The Radisson Hotel Group has, for a number of years now, asked hotel guests to reuse their towels. For each set of towels that’s reused, 15 litres of water are saved. That might not seem like much, but for a hotel like the Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront with 177 rooms operating throughout the year, it can quickly add up,” says Thom. 

Collective help from business and the public

While water scarcity is an issue across the country, many people living in rural villages in South Africa have no ready access to clean, drinking water at all. Women there walk approximately 6 km every day to collect water from open sources for their families. “This isn’t clean, running water, and it’s often contaminated. They then need to walk back with 20-25 litres of water on their heads. Horrifically, these women face a daily risk of being attacked while on their journey,” says Lauren Gillis, founder of Relate, a not-for-profit social enterprise that raises funds for various charitable causes. 

Gillis believes that “lots of little makes big impact”. Relate Water, a division of the Relate Trust has been launched, and are aiming to provide the 4,000 residents of the Nomu Wa Huku Village in Mpumalanga with a sustainable solar water system that will provide clean running water to taps throughout the village.   

Relate Water is holding a Virtual Walk/Run 6km event this week, where each entry will gift one person clean running water for life. Entrants will receive a race bib and then all they must to do is walk or run whether alone or preferably with family, friends, or colleagues. This can be anywhere, anytime – even on a treadmill, during the week of World Water Day.

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