Yesterday, was World Water Day, the UN’s commemoration of our most precious resource. This year’s focus was on Water for Cities. I spent the day pretty well immersed in the subject (not literally, it was far too chilly here in New York for that), but virtually. I spent several hours transcribing a fascinating interview with Snehal Desai, Global Marketing Director for Dow Water and Process on the role of industry in the emerging challenges related to water. Hopefully, you will get to see that soon. I also followed an online discussion of water and cities hosted by the Guardian, featuring three notable experts in the field:
- Andy Wales is group head of sustainable development for SABMiller
- Timeyin Uwejamomere is a Senior Policy Analyst for WaterAid, specializing in urban water supply and sanitation issues, and
- Will Day is Special Advisor to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and a Senior Associate of the University of Cambridge Program for Sustainability Leadership
Many different topics came up. Some of the topics covered were:
- the implications of proper water pricing
- the tensions between domestic and commercial interests (e.g. Coca-Cola in Kerala,)
- the role of NGO’s
- interactions between industry and agriculture (Andy Wales gave an example of a Colombian beer affiliate working with the Nature Conservancy to protect a critical watershed that was under threat from unsustainable farming practices)
- differences in challenges and drivers confronting different cities
- inequities in water pricing and service between economic groups (Will Day: For water authorities, commercial clients tend to be desirable customers because they tend to be bulk users who pay their bills on time. Collecting water tariffs from poor communities is both time consuming and relatively expensive. Who tends to get priority if there is a problem?)
- work done by the 2030 Water Resources Group
- the cooperative model of Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor
- disparities in water pricing between cities (e.g. Seattle’s water costs three times as much as Las Vegas)
- the role of risk management in driving sustainable behavior
- CropLife International
- subsidies (present where they are not needed, absent where they are)
- synergy and cooperation between agencies (Timeyin: It is interesting how little dialogue happens between Ministries of Water and Ministries of Land, Housing and Urban Development.)
- labeling products with embedded water content
- water footprint
- and finally this comment by Timeyin, “It is always easy to park water issues under technology and engineering. That is one of the main reasons the water sector is in a place of lack and seclusion on the global scale. Water is beyond engineering. It is a social, cultural, economic and political issue. The problem of poor access to drinking/domestic water arises out of a governance failure, not necessarily scarcity. We need all actors around the table to resolve the stark inequality in access to drinking water or between domestic water and water for agriculture and industry/commerce.”
There was also a Twitter page devoted to the day from which I picked up these gems:
“If every household in US faucet dripped once each second, 928 million gallons of water would leak away every day.”
“Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.” -Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.
And last but not least, National Geographic put out a page on things you can do to conserve water. This is a really great list which includes a number of things you wouldn’t necessarily associate with water conservation.
RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues. Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.