Green and social entrepreneurship; a pathway to sustainable water management?
This year, World Water Day* emphasises the crucial relationship between water and sustainable development. Indeed we all know that water is fundamental to our well-being and when we think of water, the first thoughts that often spring to mind are access to drinking water or water for food production. While it is true that 70% of total water withdrawal is for agriculture and that we all need drinking water to survive, water is far more intertwined in our lives. For instance, UN Water states that 80% of our power stems from thermal electricity; we need approximately 20 litres of water per capita per day for basic hygiene and food hygiene needs; manufacturing requires water, for example, 10 litres of water is needed to make one sheet of paper; also waste recycling needs water. Water creates jobs and generates income, and it is at the heart of the existence of our flora and fauna.
What about water scarcity?
With a population expectation of 9.6 billion by 2050, it will inevitably trigger a growing demand for food, energy, and goods, and intensify the amount of waste and the need for sanitation. For instance, water demand of industry is expected to increase by 400% from 2000 to 2050 (UN Water). We know all too well, however, that water is not an infinite resource and this increasing claim on water resources not only creates more and more pressure on those resources but also affects its users. To name a few examples:
- Falling groundwater tables, or increased salinity are evidence of the physical lowering of water availability (Global Water Forum).
- It is estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in water-stressed countries by 2025 (UN Water).
- At present, about 1 billion people in the developing world do not have access to clean, safe drinking water (The Water Project).
- At the same time water is wasted: 1 litre of water is needed to irrigate one calorie food, but inefficient practices can increase this number to up to 100 litres (UN Water).
In essence, shortage of water is not just an issue of diminishing natural resources, but also very much relates to inequalities that shape access to and control over water and to the ways in which water resources are managed by humans. Experience has shown that more often than not, problems of ‘scarcity’ are real problems of governance.
Eco-entrepreneurship; a solution to water scarcity
Some of you may think what has water to do with entrepreneurship? “Didn’t you just say industries are one of the biggest users of water, therefore worsening water scarcity?” While this is valid to a certain extent, social and green entrepreneurship (also referred to as eco-entrepreneurship) can also make water count for sustainable development. SEED Winners do exactly that and show that inclusive and green entrepreneurial approaches not only stimulate more sustainable water management, but they also increase access to water, and foster social and economic benefits, such as employment, while conserving water resources.
Case 1: Water is Urbanization
In many cities, particularly in developing countries, fresh- and wastewater infrastructure is non-existent, inefficient, or inadequate (UN Water). While some think that the private sector can increase efficiency, and bring investments, others argue that water would become a commodity, raising prices and excluding poor areas from services (WaterAid, ADB). The ‘Water Wars’ in Cochabamba, Bolivia, are one of the most well-known instances of public opposition to privatisation (UC Press).
Triggered as a reaction to the ‘Water Wars’ and the ongoing lack of water supply, 2005 SEED Winner Agua Para Todos (now: AGUATUYA) was founded as a private consortium by SEMAPA, the municipal water company, community-based water committees and the NGO Pro Habitat with the aim to create community-owned secondary water distributions in poor peri-urban areas of Cochabamba. Through an innovative partnership and a coordinated and efficient approach using each partner’s resources, AGUATUYA overcame the problem of the prohibitive costs of new secondary water connections and reduces end-user water cost. Families save up to 40% on water provision and 110,000 inhabitants have gained access to water and sanitation services.
Case 2: Water is Health
Worldwide 748 million people live without access to drinking water and 2.5 billion without access to sanitation facilities (UN Water). Diarrhoea alone is responsible for 1.8 million deaths annually; the vast majority of incidences are attributable to unsafe water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WHO). In the semi-arid regions of Brazil, one of the most populous regions of the world, 36 million people have limited access to potable water.
In this environment, the innovation of the 2009 SEED Award Winner, One Million Rural Cisterns, consists in combining the collection of rainwater and making it available to rural communities through Management Microregional Units (UGMs). The UGMs ensure strong engagement of civil society and community members are trained in making the manual pumps and various components of the cisterns, as well as to train other families on their use. Since 2003, 499.387 cisterns have been built benefiting more than 2 million people (ASA Brasil), while providing communities with training and employment.
Success factors for replication
By and large, water is involved in pretty much every aspect of our lives and it has the potential to create economic, social and environmental benefits. But it comes with challenges; unequal access to water resources as well as inefficient and wasteful management of water can create serious water depletion, environmental degradation, social deprivation and economic exclusion. SEED Winners show that social and environmental entrepreneurship can offer solutions for sound and efficient water resources management. In both cases, one of the success factors was the partnership. Bringing all actors involved in the value chain together fosters equal access and encouraging the participation of the community empowers the most vulnerable and strengthens their resilience. Besides, using entrepreneurial approaches to manage water resources not only provides access to water, but it becomes a source of employment and income, which in turn, is an incentive for sound management.
Do you have an enterprise that operates in water management, or does it solve other pressing social and environmental issues? Apply until 31 March 2015 for the 2015 SEED Awards!
*World Water Day: 22 years ago, in 1993, the United Nations General Assembly designated 22 March as World Water Day. Every year World Water Day is celebrated with a different theme, in 2015 the theme is ‘Water and Sustainable Development’.