Collective action is crucial in addressing water stress

Water tap

Partnerships and collective action in conserving water sources and use are crucial.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Water is a critical component in the climate change war but the 2023 WHO/Unicef Joint Monitoring Programme report on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene says 25 per cent of the world’s population lacks access to safe water and, by 2030, could face a 40 per cent shortfall.

Water scarcity is expected to become serious in Africa by next year, says the “Africa Water Vision for 2025: Equitable and Sustainable Use of Water for Socioeconomic Development” report . Some 230 million Africans will face water scarcity and 460 million live in water-stressed areas. FAO research shows a rapid decrease in East Africa’s freshwater resources over the past 40 years to among the lowest levels.

Last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos emphasised immediate action to ensure enough water for everyone, especially the most vulnerable. At the UN Global Compact-organised event, business leaders discussed how companies can together advance the SDGs, handle global crises and establish collaborations for a resilient and sustainable future.

I participated in a session by the Water Resilience Coalition (WRC) that focused on making water stress a top priority for businesses. Companies are the biggest consumers of water with almost two-thirds of all freshwater resources utilised in the production of ingredients for corporate supply chains. I learnt how businesses can build resilience in their operations, supply chains and water-scarce regions. Fortunately, the Water Resilience Coalition (WRC) idea of Net Positive Water Impact (NPWI) provides a comprehensive approach to tackling water stress by improving accessibility, quality and availability.

Businesses must join forces to preserve water resources and protect basins at risk—to ensure continuity of operations, build climate resilience and foster positive relationships with host communities. This is not just a responsibility but also an opportunity to generate sustainable benefits for biodiversity, human health and economic productivity. For manufacturers, water is not only a critical resource but also one of the most important ingredients.

Preserve Water for Life is a key pillar of EABL’s sustainability strategy, Society 2030: Spirit of Progress. It outlines water management for a positive water impact. The Water for Life programme has a series of community-based water projects, which include providing a safe, reliable and sustainable supply of water to over 2.5 million people across East Africa in over 100 projects. Substantial investments in state-of-the-art water recovery plants and continued improvement in water efficiency in operations have seen over Sh960 million invested in Kenya, where we recover 1,968 cubic metres daily from the Tusker Plant, in Nairobi, and Kisumu Plant. In Uganda, we have similarly invested more than USh11.4 billion.

Partnerships and collective action in conserving water sources and use are crucial. One of our major priorities is our partnership with the Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund (UT-NWF) Trust. Our shared aim is to support the long-term conservation, protection and maintenance of the Upper Tana watershed, which is crucial to nine million people in Nairobi and surrounding regions, supporting 95 per cent of the water supply for Nairobi and generates 65per cent of Kenya’s energy through hydropower.

In the past year, working with UT-NWF, we dedicated our efforts to promoting sustainable land management (SLM) and integrated natural resources management (INRM) practices. That is aimed at enhancing the livelihoods and climate resilience of farming households while conserving the watershed by offering financial support to farmers for the purchase of high-value fruit tree seedlings, construction of water pans and drip irrigation kits.

Amid an impending water crisis, the need for collective action has become increasingly clear. That is not only a corporate agenda but a shared responsibility that transcends industries and borders. Let this serve as a call to action to secure a future where water is not a scarce commodity but a shared legacy.

- Ms Karuku is the Group CEO and Managing Director at East African Breweries PLC. [email protected].