Climate change is exacerbating the global water crisis. Corporations must be part of the solution
There are 771 million reasons for corporations to get more involved in helping to solve the global water crisis. We’ve seen first hand the impact a corporate partner can have in scaling proven solutions that work and change the future for people living in poverty–and the world can’t wait.
Along with the 771 million people still living without access to safe water, we have 1.7 billion who do not have a toilet. And things aren’t getting better–they’re getting worse due to the catastrophic effects of climate change. By 2025, half of the world’s population is projected to live in areas where obtaining safe water is difficult if not impossible, with people living in poverty feeling it first and worst.
Take the story of Leneriza as an example. She was paying $60 a month for unreliable, unsafe water from a private vendor. With support from a microloan, she was able to pay the upfront cost to join the utility which gave her sustained access to regulated water. Her payments dropped to just $10 a month: $5 to repay her loan, and a $5 water bill. That’s it. Right away, she had both safe water and $50 more in her pocket each month to spend on her family.
There are millions of people in situations like Leneriza’s. People with the capacity to solve their water and sanitation access issues who are constrained by the upfront costs. Organizations such as Water.org are working to solve this by providing a solution for millions of people who are stuck using short-term, stop-gap solutions like buying contaminated water from trucks or paying a fee every time they use a toilet, but they needed partners to help scale these solutions.
Reclaiming wasted hours
Many people who lack access to water and sanitation know exactly how to solve their problems, but they lack the necessary funds. One solution that works is to help provide financing for individual households’ water needs–whether that’s joining a local utility by connecting to an existing water line, installing a rainwater harvesting tank and pump, or installing a household toilet.
We’ve been inspired by the results and success stories that we see on the ground. Chenamma, like too many other women in India, spent hours each day collecting water from ponds. Using a cloth, she would attempt to filter the water she collected to make it safe for her family to drink–but it didn’t stop them from suffering from sore throats, headaches, and water-borne illnesses.
With a microfinance loan, Chenamma connected her home to the municipal water line and purchased a storage tank with a purifier and a solar water heater. Now Chenamma and her family have lasting, affordable access to safe water at home. This improved access to water has also boosted their income, as Chenamma is now able to grow and sell fruit from home.
In order to create millions of success stories like Chenamma’s, we need the tools to further scale this work around the world–this is where corporate support is needed most.
How corporate solutions can make an impact
Companies are often best positioned to develop new technologies or scale innovations that can be used to accelerate the deployment of safe water solutions globally.
Take Amazon as an example. The company has made addressing the water crisis a priority. Outside of its own water commitments, including a recent announcement that Amazon Web Services (AWS) will return more water to communities than they consume by 2030, Amazon also recognized that it could play a role in bringing water access solutions to scale.
That’s why in 2020 and 2021, Amazon supported Water.org to help provide more than 250,000 people in communities in India and Indonesia with water connections or toilets at home. In 2022, Amazon made a further commitment that helped launch the Water.org water and climate strategy, an ambitious initiative that aims to reach 100 million people with water and sanitation solutions.
The two organizations are collaborating to build a learning management system (LMS) that will offer an online pathway for faster expansion of Water.org’s programs. Water.org expects an increase in microloans disbursed, with the potential to reduce the cost per person reached by an estimated 10% or more, resulting in the ability to bring water and sanitation services to an estimated 5 million more people over the next 10 years.
Think about that. A single technology solution will change the lives of millions. Imagine the possibilities as more companies step up and bring their own innovations to help remove remaining barriers to water access.
Amazon is not alone in working to tackle this challenge. Industry partnerships such as The Water Resilience Coalition (WRC) are working to put mounting water stress and its connection to climate change at the top of the global corporate agenda. WRC members work to preserve the world’s freshwater resources through collective action in water-stressed basins and through ambitious, quantifiable goals. The WRC is an initiative of the CEO Water Mandate between the UN Global Compact and the Pacific Institute.
Companies have options on how to engage in solving our global water problems, but the key is that they act–and fast.
Climate change and water are inextricably linked, and the changes we are seeing are having crippling effects on the world’s water resources. The impact is felt by households at the base of the economic pyramid who don’t have enough cash on hand to secure safe access to the water they need to live.
Today, on World Water Day, we’re putting out a call for collaboration. We must create more corporate partnerships to scale proven water access solutions. 771 million lives are counting on it.
Kara Hurst is VP of worldwide sustainability at Amazon. Gary White is the CEO and co-founder of Water.org & WaterEquity. Matt Damon is an actor and co-founder of Water.org & WaterEquity.
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