The recent Davos session in Switzerland on ‘Pathways to a Sustainable Future’ was a great opportunity to meet Minister Edna Molewa from South Africa again, our strongest governmental ally in the Water Resources Group.

<strong>DISCUSSIONS AT DAVOS:</strong> Minister Edna Molewa at this year’s World Economic Forum

The discussion focused on several areas of sustainability besides water, including health (vaccination) and access to energy. When talking about water we came to a clear conclusion – when tackling challenges as great as those faced by the world today, collaboration within the strategies set by governments is essential. The crucial first step of course, is to agree on what urgent challenges require most collaboration. Encouragingly, there is growing consensus.

Ahead of this year’s meeting, over 1,000 international experts were asked to rank the biggest priorities among 50 global risks. The global water crisis came second, ahead of other pressing issues such as chronic fiscal imbalance, food shortage (which, as I have shown in other posts, is closely related to water overuse and shortage), and threats from weapons of mass destruction.

Scoring global problems is not the same as solving them. But this underlines a growing recognition of the central role water plays in all economic activities. But what is the solution? In my opinion, innovative and disruptive partnerships are crucial.

To make a material difference on the water crisis, innovative partnerships require three things, each of which I believe can be found in the public-private collaboration that we are developing through the 2030 Water Resources Group:

  • Firstly, it is essential to establish a clear understanding and deep grasp of the problem. While global in scope, the water crisis manifests itself in an intensely local way. The Water Resources Group starts by helping governments to analyse and understand the gap between withdrawals and the sustainable supply of freshwater in specific watersheds. In practical terms, this is about working out how much water can be saved compared to the actual gap in supply.
  • Secondly, we ensure that the approach we take is unremittingly fact-based and analytical. The aim is to help governments apply a forensic understanding of local water challenges to drive sustainable economic growth plans. This involves providing a cost curve of levers able to close the gap and advise on approaches relevant to the locality which measure how many US cents of investment per cubic meter of water is saved.
  • Thirdly, innovative partnerships require the right, innovative partners. While governments are the ultimate steward of national water resources, there are limits to what they can achieve without the support of other stakeholders who also have a role to play. The 2030 Water Resources Group has made a concerted effort to mobilise knowledge and influence across the public and private sector, academia, and civil society. This combines international bodies such as the World Economic Forum and International Finance Corporation, world governments, major non-governmental organisations and other leading businesses besides Nestlé, including the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo.

Partnerships particularly require political leadership and a strategic framework to deliver effective solutions. We were particularly fortunate and proud in this respect that our panel included Edna Molewa, South Africa’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs – and one of the first political leaders to understand the seriousness and complexity of the water challenge. Minister Molewa has been instrumental in establishing the South Africa Strategic Water Partners Network, a partnership between South Africa’s government and the Water Resources Group that is addressing critical water issues in the region where demand is expected to rise by 52%.

As I have blogged about previously, the results demonstrate just how powerful such collaboration can be. Through a coordinated, multi-stakeholder approach we are continuing to catalogue best practice learnings not only specific to countries, such as India, Mexico, and China, but also specific to individual river basins.

Only by bridging sectors and bringing together public, private and civil society can tackle a challenge as complex as the one at the water crisis.

As always, I am keen to hear your thoughts – particularly around how we can strengthen collaboration between different types of stakeholders.