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Water at Davos

24 January 2014

As Matt Damon said on Thursday morning at the 2030 Water Resources Group meeting at Davos, it's time to get some more action. Somewhat appropriate given what he does for his day job. Water scarcity and water access have been big issues for some while, but given the focus on climate change here at Davos, the potential impacts for water resources have come into sharper focus. 

The Water Resources Group was formally launched only three years ago or so at Davos but already has had a significant impact in catalysing public private partnerships to manage water resources better to enable better growth and human development. In South Africa, the local version - the Strategic Water Partners Network - is led by SAB Ltd and the Ministry of Water, with many other companies now energised behind key priorities to improve water use in agriculture, improve industrial water efficiency and help local government reduce municipal leakage.

SABMiller has now invested further in the Water Resources Group  (WRG) to support its launch in Tanzania. As our CEO Alan Clark said this week, water is critical to our business, and we will invest to tackle shared water risks through committed partnerships across the world. In Tanzania the WRG will align with the existing Grow Africa programme through which we are working to grow more local are materials for our beers. That linking of water to agriculture is critical. Because if water and food, as well as energy, are not managed together, then the unintended consequences could be dangerous, as the growing middle class demands more food and a better quality of life.

This morning SABMiller launched a new report jointly with WWF International looking at the connections between water, food and energy and showing that developing, emerging and developed markets take quite different approaches to the trade-offs between the resources to meet their immediate and mid-term goals, and the wealthier a country gets, the more it can trade its way out of the challenges. But as Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International said at the launch, in a globalised world the ability to trade our way out of problems has become much more difficult, and we need different solutions.

And this brings us, inevitably, to partnerships. A word much discussed over the years at Davos, the debates this year have had a much better level of optimism on how much can be achieved through serious multi-company, multi-NGO sometimes multi-government partnerships. SABMiller is a major bottler of Coca Cola products and working with WWF and other NGOs such as The Nature Conservancy, and government agencies such as GIZ of Germany, we are exploring how we can work together better through local watershed partnerships around the world. There's a long way to go, but the energy is there for action.

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