Two of the key water issues that I am most passionate about are clean water and sanitation, both of which are fundamental for healthy, vibrant and economically-viable communities. Yet today, nearly 1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe water and 2.6 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation.

The implications are staggering. Unsafe water is a leading contributor to poor health and disease in the developing world. Illnesses resulting from a lack of safe water kill more children under age 5 than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. And more people die every year from water- and sanitation-related disease than from all forms of violence, including war.

The United Nations predicts by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity and two-thirds of the world’s population will likely be dealing with water-stressed conditions.

The picture of our water future is coming into focus and it’s not exactly rosy. We now are witnessing one of the world’s most significant and underreported public health, development and economic challenges – water insecurity. We are entering the Age of Water – a time when our daily lives will be affected, directly and indirectly, by the availability of water and access to it.

Fortunately, there is room for hope – and we all have a role to play in securing a sound water future. Many individuals, groups and businesses are working together to reduce the pressure on water resources, and to encourage sustainable water stewardship.

Private sector measures

Whether it is the star of the show or plays a supporting role in the final product, water is vital to the operation and growth of almost every business. So when water is scarce, not replenished at the same rate it is used or otherwise inaccessible, the effects of local water scarcity can have global ramifications.

To address this issue, many companies are assessing their water footprints and implementing measures to reduce their impacts on water resources. My organization works closely with leading corporations to determine the business case for water stewardship, and specific actions and investments they can undertake to make a positive contribution. The result may be a corporation that takes measures to protect watersheds and establish clean drinking water programs in the communities where their operations are located. That’s good for the health of whole communities of people and the environment -- and it’s good for business, too!

Some of the world’s leading corporations are becoming leading water stewards:

  • The Coca-Cola Company has prioritized water stewardship, most notably through its support of community water projects and its pledge to be water-neutral or replenish the water used in the production of its products. Through its Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) and Water and Development Alliance (WADA) programs and partnerships, Coca-Cola will invest more than $50 million to help improve access to clean water and sanitation for millions of people around the world.
  • Cargill has funded water, sanitation and hygiene programs in 71 schools in rural Mexico and is working in partnership with H2O for Life to support additional school programs worldwide.
  •  Kimberly-Clark is working to increase water efficiency in direct operations and is supporting community water access in Colombia and other regions where they work.
These are just a few examples of businesses that have identified water as a central issue for their own sustainability, and have embraced the challenge of promoting a sustainable water future.

It’s a very powerful thing when companies understand their environmental footprints and take positive action for the greater good. Every time a company takes these steps, it stimulates momentum. It is this momentum that continues to fuel new investment in water stewardship – and it may be one of the best antidotes for solving the global water crisis.

Public-private initiatives

As of this writing, from the heads of 74 of the world’s leading corporations have signed “The CEO Water Mandate,” a unique public-private initiative designed to assist companies in the development, implementation and disclosure of water sustainability policies and practices. Though impressive, this display of support is only the beginning. Many more companies must become good water stewards in order for there to be significant progress for the future of water and the people who depend on it.

The water challenge is too large for any one sector to tackle alone. Public and private groups must continue to work together to find sustainable solutions. During the past decade, combined efforts by governments, organizations and private-sector actors led to increased access to water for roughly 200 million people. These partnerships demonstrate how leading organizations can make a significant impact on water sustainability and improve the quality of life for millions in need around the world. That is a step toward water security and a healthier, sustainable future for all.

Learn more

Monica Ellis is the CEO of Global Water Challenge (GWC) and the Global Environment and Technology Foundation. She has worked on global water and sanitation issues for over 20 years and regularly advises leading companies on water stewardship. Learn more at Global Water Challenge. Keep up with the latest news by following GWC on [skipwords]Twitter[/skipwords] and [skipwords]Facebook[/skipwords]. Ms. Ellis can be reached at