Water and Prosperity

By Mark Bowman, Managing Director, SABMiller Africa

Water and Prosperity

Water and prosperity go hand in hand for SABMiller and the communities in which we operate. Without water, we can’t, of course, brew beer or make our other drinks. It is simply essential for the success of our business.

But without water, farmers can’t produce the raw materials we need. And water scarcity and stress are also major barriers to wider economic development.

It is not just the direct impact that cuts the productivity of farmland, turns once arable fields into desert or makes manufacturing processes impossible. There are also huge indirect costs.

Poor health from dirty water cuts national productivity. So, for example, do the hours wasted walking to and from a well each day, removing women from employment and forcing children to miss out on education.

It is why the business case for conserving water within our own operations and beyond is so compelling. It is also urgent.

Water scarcity already casts a deep shadow over the lives of hundreds of millions of people in Africa. More than one in three of the continent’s population lack enough water for their day-to-day needs. Without action, these numbers will increase dramatically. Growing populations and rising consumer needs are adding every day to the pressures on our water resources. At the same time, climate change is already reducing rainfall and raising temperatures.

Scientists warn that these negative impacts will only increase. With the UN predicting last year that Africa’s population could quadruple by the end of this century, water scarcity could be the greatest barrier to prosperity and quality of life on the continent.

It is also a challenge that no government, business or community can hope to find the solutions to on their own. Only by working together and forging new partnerships can we identify and put in place the answers we need.

The answers start with all of us, as businesses and individuals, doing all we can to improve our efficient use of water. At SABMiller, we set ourselves ambitious targets to reduce by 25 per cent the water we use globally to brew our beer by 2015. We met the target a year early, reducing the amount of water we used by over 29 million hectolitres in the last year alone.

Reducing the resources we use is not just the right step but also commercially sensible. Within our cost savings programmes, we saved US$117 million in the year compared with 2010 from water and energy related initiatives.

But our continued success depends on what happens beyond the boundaries of our breweries. There can be no successful sustainable business without healthy, sustainable communities. And communities cannot survive, never mind thrive, without water.

That is why we work across the continent – and around the world – with partners, big and small, to conserve and protect shared water resources. This includes the pioneering Water Futures Partnership, which we set up in 2008 with WWF and Germany’s development agency. In Zambia, the partnership is working to protect the sustainability of the Itawa Springs, an important resource for Ndola, the country’s third largest city, and surrounding areas. We are co-operating with national and local groups including the city’s council to conserve water and raise living standards.

In South Africa, we are helping local hop farmers replace non-native trees with local species that use less water. It is part of the support and advice we are giving to thousands of farmers across the continent to help them increase harvests while reducing the amount of water they need.

We are also putting many of these lessons into practice in Tanzania where we are working with the Government, NGOs and community groups to manage water in the Ruaha river basin. Three million people directly depend on its water but our work will bring benefits to Tanzania’s entire 45 million population by helping improve tourism, power generation and food security nationally.

We are also closely involved in South Africa with the Government’s Strategic Water Partners Network. This brings together government, businesses such as Nestle, Coca-Cola and Eskom with communities.

The goal – through driving the more efficient use of water, reducing leaks and improving effluent and waste water management – is to close the gap between water supply and demand. This is forecast to rise, on the basis of projected increases in population and industrial use, to 17 per cent by 2030.

This is the scale of the challenge we face. Without determined and collective action to strengthen water resilience, our ambitions for our families, our communities and businesses are under severe threat. The urgent need is to build and expand co-operation and to scale up the good work going on across the continent. Tackling water stress is key to all our futures.

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