Water scarcity is a critical concern on the sustainability agenda. Only 1% of the earth’s surface water is accessible drinking water – and one in 10 people struggle to access it.
Water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) also impact gender equality and health. From India to Africa and beyond, girls and young women bear the burden of retrieving water for their families, hindering their educational development. Meanwhile, a lack of water hygiene has negative health implications – an issue prevalent in developing countries.
Climate change is exacerbating the water crisis everywhere, with increased flooding making efforts to improve WASH standards harder than ever. These problems also impair vital trade routes, stunt economic growth, and prevent supplies from reaching those in need. Elsewhere, water levels are drastically changing the world as we know it, creating new tensions for governments to contend with.
As a voice from a company enabling global trade, I know how vital it is to ensure water security – not just to protect the waterways that act as transport routes but to protect the lifeblood of communities.
Water and national security are intrinsically linked. Here are three reasons why we must accept this and how we can turn the tides so water can empower communities, not destroy them:
1) Food shortages
As evidenced in South Sudan, food shortages are a ramification of the water crisis. Three years of flooding have made vast stretches of its agricultural land unusable, leaving the country facing its highest food insecurity since 2011. This unsanitary floodwater also infiltrates freshwater resources and has serious health repercussions.
South Sudan is not the only country affected by food shortages. It joins the world’s poorest nations in this strife. All of them need equitable economic development to futureproof themselves and be able to invest in the health and growth of their people.
If we are united in our desire that fairer economic distribution can help these nations, we must work together to combat climate change and take control of the world’s water.
Water security threatens human life and the concentration of people across geographies. As humans flee floods and droughts, they often have no choice but to cross borders to safer ground. This destabilises regions and the balance of vital resources.
The World Bank’s Groundswell report projects that climate change-related disasters, such as floods and droughts, could cause up to 216 million people to move within or out of their countries by 2050. Pakistan’s floods this year awakened us to the realities of this, displacing millions of people and forcing neighbouring regions to shoulder the burden.
Climate-intensified events like this will keep happening – and if we don’t respond strategically, we risk disabling countries further and leaving them without the resources to protect themselves.
3) International tensions
The other consequence of water’s power to displace communities is how it can increase international tensions.
Amidst ever-growing geopolitical tensions, economies experience added pressure on precious natural resources. And as water scarcity forces people to seek resources elsewhere, they risk being exploited or harmed as countries react to the increased migratory flows.
Most often, the highest rates of conflict over water are in areas exposed to extreme weather, which will only exacerbate as the climate crisis worsens. So, how do we ensure greater water security and protect the security of nations?
The private sector has incredible influence when it comes to water security. DP World, for example, has a vested interest in protecting the world’s water. As it enables world trade and global business, it is also responsible for the communities it serves.
We, along with other business leaders, can change how we conduct business to better serve the areas in which we operate. I am committed to doing all I can to ensure that sustainable practices guide more of our business decisions to have a more positive impact.
We must act now to fix these issues before they worsen. Water security is not a conversation exclusive to sustainability executives or public officials. It is a topic that urgently warrants the attention of CEOs and policymakers to ensure the security of all nations worldwide.