The theme of this year’s world water day is ‘cooperation’. At first glance, cooperation might appear a somewhat passive sentiment; but, in the context of the global water challenge, meaningful change and progress will only happen through cooperation, collaboration and partnerships.
We talk about water being a shared resource, shared risk and a shared responsibility. This notion of shared risk is a critical element underpinning responses to the global water crisis. The UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate and the World Economic Forum have helped to catalyse debate while organisations such as the Water Footprint Network (WFN) and the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) have been established to assess the scale of the problems and set standards around water use.
International initiatives have played an important role in establishing a momentum to encourage better understanding of water risks. However, there is still a lack of initiatives which seek to understand the issues at a local level and to put in place effective plans to address them.
Over recent years, SABMiller, WWF and others have worked together to try and fill this gap. SABMiller and WWF have been working together since 2008, when WWF helped SABMiller map the first ever value chain Water Footprint for its beers in South Africa and Czech Republic. In November 2009 the Water Futures Partnership was launched between SABMiller, WWF and GIZ (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) which is now active in nine countries. We have had some notable successes, for example projects in South Africa and India, where projects have protected watersheds and boosted ground water levels. And we are committed to building on our collective knowledge and experience to work with other partners.
Water Futures marks a different type of collaboration, in that it comes from an implementation perspective, as opposed to collaboration in simply talking. All three organisations – as part of Water Futures or in other collaborations – are driven by the imperative to take action. We want to reach the point where we are able to scale and replicate projects to have an even greater impact, but it begins with small steps. An important function of involving the private sector in collaborations is the sense of imperative and drive which business brings to the challenge.
Another great example of active and effective local cooperation is the Strategic Water Partners Network in South Africa. Co-chaired by South African Breweries, this diverse public-private collaboration includes WWF, the Coca-Cola Company, Anglo American, Nestlé, the Development Bank of South Africa, the South African Water Research Commission, and the South African Local Government Association. The network provides practical ideas to help deliver sustainable water supplies and to date, the network has identified seven national projects on water conservation and efficiency and on effluent partnerships, now under development.
Through our partnership, we are seeing the awakening of a new and potentially powerful shift in approaches to water management. And in the years that we have worked together, we have learned important lessons – it can take time to engage others and engender the necessary cooperation, and it’s important to remember that tackling water risks is complex: issues will only be addressed over the long-term and with robust, long-lasting relationships.