Securing a water positive future to benefit people and the planet

Circular economy mindset can help secure a water positive future to benefit people and the planet, by Theuns Kotze, managing director, Assurance IMETA at BSI

Water is one of our most precious and undervalued resources. We need it to maintain good health and a biodiverse environment, to grow food and across every industry. Access to clean water is at the forefront of building a more equitable society, which is why the UN included this in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Image: Supplied

However, recent events have challenged the perception that drought and flooding are rare. As the climate crisis intensifies, communities are increasingly facing challenges arising from too little and too much water. Effective management of water has never been so important. In some countries, water conservation is a key priority. But globally we do not always recognize this to the same degree as other environmental issues such as emissions reduction, where we have seen a willingness to partner and innovate. In fact, the two are intrinsically linked – water provision and use contribute around 10% to global carbon emissions.

Levels of water insecurity are soaring as annual water use has risen by around 3,500 billion m3 globally over the last century. South Africa is approaching physical water scarcity in 2025 where it is expected to reach a water deficit of 17 percent by 2030. In fact, South Africa faces multiple water crises across all provinces and sectors.

Action to increase water circularity through global collaboration and innovation could help tackle this. Doing so will bring wider benefits – including reducing drought risk, supporting climate goals and advancing social development to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals as suggested in our new research in partnership with Waterwise. The report sets out the key steps that could have a positive impact to help society meet this challenge, including recognising that accelerating progress towards a water positive future could be a sustainability opportunity as large as reducing climate change, making it easier for consumers to choose water-saving products and embedding a circular economy mindset.

The research identifies that using water wisely can bring important benefits, including enabling equitable global access, protecting precious habitats and making us more resilient to climate change and drought. It makes a series of recommendations, including:

  1. Recognise water wastage as a serious challenge – Acknowledge the issue and act, with utility companies leading the way to reduce network leakage.
  2. Ensure it is easy to choose water-saving products and make sustainable choices – for example learning from countries including Australia and Singapore, which apply mandatory product water efficiency labelling systems, aligned with the relevant standard.
  3. Embrace innovation and make better use of data – smart meters have the potential to be a game changer when it comes to saving water.
  4. Encourage a water saving culture – Prioritise protecting our planet through water management, whether that is at home or in the workplace, and across different sectors.
  5. Close the loop – Make water recycling and reuse the norm where possible, using techniques such as water recycling and water reuse in new buildings, or rainwater harvesting.
  6. Partner for impact – Collaborative effort across a wide range of players from government and regulators to the water industry and ultimately all of us as water users can help us address the growing challenges around water availability.
  7. Some of the steps identified above were implemented to alleviate the Cape Town Water Crisis in 2017/2018 when dam levels reached their peak level, with water hovering between 15 to 30 per cent of total dam capacity impacted by a severe drought. Water restrictions were imposed on residents, agriculture and businesses and water tariffs were introduced. The result was that dam levels reached around 70% of total capacity, subsequently ending the water shortage.
  8. With a growing, increasingly urban global population, we are placing greater demands on resources. Yet we have a finite amount of water to draw on. We have seen that drought and flooding often come at an enormous societal cost. Learning to manage water differently and applying strategies to move towards a water-positive future can benefit us all. By collaborating to address water security, we can accelerate progress towards a water secure future and a sustainable world.
  9. BSI provides support across several areas of water management, including Water Safety Plans, which is a critical foundation for effective risk management and control for all types of biological, chemical, physical and radiological hazards.

Some of the steps identified above were implemented to alleviate the Cape Town Water Crisis in 2017/2018 when dam levels reached their peak level, with water hovering between 15 to 30 per cent of total dam capacity impacted by a severe drought. Water restrictions were imposed on residents, agriculture and businesses and water tariffs were introduced. The result was that dam levels reached around 70% of total capacity, subsequently ending the water shortage.

With a growing, increasingly urban global population, we are placing greater demands on resources. Yet we have a finite amount of water to draw on. We have seen that drought and flooding often come at an enormous societal cost. Learning to manage water differently and applying strategies to move towards a water-positive future can benefit us all. By collaborating to address water security, we can accelerate progress towards a water secure future and a sustainable world.

BSI provides support across several areas of water management, including Water Safety Plans, which is a critical foundation for effective risk management and control for all types of biological, chemical, physical and radiological hazards.

For more information, visit: Thirst for change | BSI (bsigroup.com)

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