Another World Water Week has drawn to a close in Stockholm after once again kindling a fascinating mix of debate, opinion, ideas and, on occasion, disagreement on the infinitely complex issue of water. The range of topics discussed during the week was vast and although I could talk about a number of them, for me the two standout themes were agriculture and the issue of scaling projects.
Depending on what part of the world you are in, 70-90% of the world’s freshwater demand can be attributed to agriculture. Given that fact, the absence of agribusinesses from WWW was very striking. That is not to say that they have nothing to contribute; on the contrary, there were some very impressive case studies demonstrating the great work that a number of players are doing in terms of water stewardship, but these were often presented by their partners rather than the players themselves. As such, the discussion was not as inclusive and encompassing as it could have been, and for those looking for collaborative pathways to sustainable water resource management, the unheard voice of agribusiness represented a lost opportunity.
The issue of scale was also particularly pertinent. Since the theme of the week was ‘Water Cooperation – Building Partnerships’, there were some fantastic example of how stakeholders were collaborating to address water risk, despite marked differences in their backgrounds and interests. However, the majority of these partnerships had a very narrow geographic and so the great difficulty lies in determining if and how these projects can be scaled. The importance of scaling is paramount; if we don’t, it will be extremely difficult to make any meaningful progress in tackling the water challenges we are faced with. Pilot projects are indisputably important but we need to move rapidly and expand once the concept is proven.
Having said this, there can be no doubt that significant progress has been made in thinking and acting around water resources, with the nature and depth of conversation being a noticeable step-change from last year’s event. We have also seen new partnerships formed and existing partnerships extended due to their success – the Water Futures Partnership being one of them. Needless to say, however, we still have a long way to go and I hope that the energy seen at World Water 2013 will translate into a step change on the ground. For one, I would urge those involved in agribusiness to think about how they might get involved in the water discussion, and for another I hope next year brings more demonstration of scale projects. SABMiller will obviously seek to play a role in this as we work to strengthen and expand the Water Futures Partnership whilst continuing to drive ever-greater water efficiency in our own operations around the world.
You can see interviews from World Water Week here.
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