Partnerships with the private sector: Water

Dominic Waughray

Dominic Waughray, World Economic Forum

Dominic Waughray is Director and Head of the World Economic Forum's Environmental Initiatives.

World Economic Forum / SDC / ALCAN and others

Tackling the water crisis

Water insecurity is growing in many parts of the world. Needs for social development and access to safe water must be balanced against the requirements of water-dependent industries that can fuel economic growth, but the challenges are compounded by increasingly scarce water resources. Publicprivate partnerships between business, government and communities offer a useful and practical answer.

Water is often said to be the most serious natural resource challenge we face. There are no substitutes for water, and it is key to our social, economic and environmental well-being. Industries are increasingly recognizing the importance of addressing the issues in their business activities associated with water and the need to engage external stakeholders to jointly find solutions.

In 2003 the World Economic Forum started working with Alcan and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) to help build multistakeholder partnerships for water that could serve as neutral platforms for innovative water-related projects and publicprivate activities to leverage synergies and facilitate efficient project development.

The water sector suffers from a shortage of robust, sustainable and bankable projects. Experience demonstrates that the challenge is not a lack of available funds, but rather the brokerage of better designed projects. Collaborative approaches between government and industry in designing such projects have produced some successful examples. However, navigating this process can be extremely complex and time intensive.

The World Economic Forum is engaging private, public and non-governmental bodies to respond collectively to environmental challenges as a contribution to the UN Millennium Development Goals.

The World Economic Forum Environment Team has been working specifically to facilitate more effective public-private collaboration on water in India and Africa. High-level networks have been developed between development partners, communities, government institutions and industry to help lower transaction costs so that all parties can participate in the development of sustainable waterrelated projects that meet the political needs of governments, the business needs of industry and, most importantly, the social needs of communities. The basis of these projects is a clear business case for industries, but they must also contribute visibly to wider social development targets and fit into existing economic development strategies at all levels.

In India, the World Economic Forum helped catalyze the Indian Business Alliance on Water (IBAW) partnership with USAID (US Agency for International Development), UNDP and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to develop these public-private partnerships in water. In South Africa, the NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development) Business Foundation, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, has had similar success in facilitating a South Africa Water Network with strong champions from the Department of Water Affairs, local government associations development agencies and private sector.

In parallel to the regional activities, industry groups are increasingly recognizing the importance of water and the associated risks in their business activities. The World Economic Forum is helping these industries develop specific «workstreams» to address their interests. One major workstream has been developed and is ready to launch with the food and beverage community on water, agriculture and sustainable business.

With agriculture accounting for approximately 70% of all water used globally, the growing uncertainty of water availability and quality poses significant risks to companies further along the agriculture value chain, such as food and beverage manufacturers. As a first step, companies are encouraged to strengthen their own credibility by demonstrating leadership on internal water management, reviewing the risks of water insecurity to all stakeholders and identifying local scale-up project opportunities. The next step is to work with public sector representatives to raise issue awareness and identify incentives that will trigger action on water sector reform.

It is clear that no one stakeholder acting alone can be successful in meeting the global water challenge. The World Economic Forum and its local partners are demonstrating the benefits of working in multistakeholder partnerships and firmly believes this collaborative approach is the key to tackling the complex challenges of water.