Four Ways to Accelerate Progress on Sustainable Water Management

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, two out of five people in the world still lack access to basic hand washing facilities. 

Water shortages, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation are chronic challenges to the health, wellbeing and livelihoods of the poorest and most vulnerable people.

Leaders from the Youth Water Network, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), Danone, UN- Water, PVH Corp, Diageo and Green Climate Fund came together to discuss the Global Acceleration Framework on Ensuring water and sanitation for all (SDG 6) during Uniting Business LIVE.

According to these leaders, there are four key ways to accelerate progress on SDG 6: 

  1. Foster new forms of collaboration 

Collaborations between the public, private, the third sector and communities are fundamental for sustainable water and sanitation management. Nicholas Franke from UNDESA agrees “There are innovative approaches to collaboration [...] that have co-benefits for water but also climate mitigation, biodiversity, community and social economic livelihoods.”

Water is a natural resource essential for human life and business operations. All stakeholders have an interest in utilizingheir influence to ensure the sustainable and ecological development of the regions in which they operate. Working across the public, private and third sector boundaries is not only beneficial but essential for the effective management of water resources.

In Ethiopia, PVH Corp (a conglomerate of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and other fashion brands) worked with government officials to ensure the apparel industry in the Hawassa region operated in ways thatrespected ecological and sustainability principles. Danone has also maintained for the past 20 years a partnership with farmer associations in the Evian region (France) for the protection of the region’s natural ecosystem. The Water Resilience Coalition unites leading global companies for the preservation of the world’s freshwater resources through collaborative action in the basins. 

  1. Scale up best-practices in Innovation and technology

Scaling up water management technology and innovation is vital to avoid water shortages and maintain distribution of this natural resource across individuals and societal sectors.

“Innovation, whether in science, emerging technologies, governments or business models, can significantly improve water and sanitation management with a focus on scaling up best practices and relevant innovation to countries” states Mr. Olcay Ünver, Vice-Chair of UN-Water.

Furthermore, technological advancements in wastewater management are crucial to achieving SDGs connected to the environment and human health: Untreated wastewater flows back into the ecosystem causing disruptions in biodiversity and a host of illnesses in people who do not have access to piped water. However, if treated, wastewater is a great non-conventional water source contributing to alleviate water and food security.

  1. Develop consistent metrics and targets

Metrics and targets allow the public and private sector to look at their water management and sanitation work to accelerate SDG6.

Establishing consistent and well-informed targets and metrics can steer the way for water stewardship activities across various industries. Samantha Sims, Vice President for Environmental Sustainability and Product Stewardship in PVH Corp believes that “consistent metrics across the water stewardship projects will be really invaluable.” They provide a standard by which different stakeholders including impact investors can evaluate water management innovations and technologies which enables better decision making.

Companies within the Water Resilience Coalition can use quantifiable metrics developed by the WRC for the business sector, allowing them to showcase their success stories and learn from the best practices of competitor companies.

  1. Mobilize diverse financial tools 

Economic instruments are pivotal for the development of eco-friendly technology and the same rings true for the construction of effective water management systems. Impact finance which prioritizes investments in socially and environmentally conscious projects need to be more widely available and incentivise innovation for water.

Currently, water management investments are virtually all linked to grants, diversifying the range of available financial instruments such as equity investments and concessional loans are key to accelerate innovation and technology.

Water stewardship projects must be able to access equity instruments provided by green and blue investors. Aina Grobicki, Deputy Director for Adaptation at Green Climate Fund (GCF) said, “Going forward we're going to need to look more at developing equity instruments where GCF could actually invest in helping to de-risk new investments in developing innovative water resources alternative unconventional instruments.”

The Green Climate Fund has been working with the Bank of Southern Africa and working within 59 municipalities in South Africa to issue bonds guaranteed by GCF for investors within this sector.

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