Water and the lack of social engagement

By MARINA GROSSI, president of the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development (CEBDS)

Brazil has always lived a water-rich culture, especially considering that the country holds 13% of the world’s freshwater supply, which is unevenly distributed. On top of that, there is mismanagement causing an impressive 37% of overall waste in the distribution of potable water. Mere 42.6% of sewage is treated in the country and there is little forest cover in the drainage basins, which affects regulation.

Even with such numbers and the constant shortage problems in the Northeast region, several social groups and the press only started paying attention when the draught crisis hit the Southeast Region in 2014 and 2015, and currently in the Federal District. Even though the alarm has been set off, today’s agenda is weakened despite this being the moment when it should be at the center of the stage as water will be the resource most affected by climate change. The UN estimates there will be a 40% gap between water supply and demand by 2030.

Among the global agendas there is the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the social-environmental agenda. Water is becoming a huge linkage, not only having its own SDG – number 6 (universal water and sewage systems) – but also impacting 13 out of the other 17 goals, such as poverty, health, employment, food, and protection to nature.

Brazil has the significant and unique chance of hosting the main global event on the topic, the 8th World Water Forum, which will be held in Brasília in 2018. We can play the leading role and propose an agenda to profit from the presence of renowned experts to look for practical solutions for the water issue through modern technologies, the scaling of existing projects, and public policies.

In Brazil, the 8th World Water Forum has created the Sustainability Focus Group led by CEBDS and Global WWF (World Wildlife Fund) with the purpose of connecting its agenda to that of the Paris Agreement and the respective SDGs, increasing business engagement without turning its back on society. With the purpose of attaining this goal, some pre-events have been held, for instance the Water Forum on Business Engagement developed by the Sustainability Focus Group and the recent 2017 Global Water Summit, in a partnership between CEBDS, Coca-Cola Brazil and the 8th World Water Forum.

These events aimed at understanding the expected results of the 8th World Water Forum and the main challenges to the global and regional agendas on water that will affect both businesses and the society. These meetings were enlightening for having shown that regardless of the apparent lack of consensus among the many actors of this agenda, both the businesses and the civil society pointed out common issues and highlighted the need to expand the inter-sectoral dialogue and the importance of collective actions over individual ones, overcoming obstacles that hinder the construction of collective solutions.

Improving communication and the quality of information is needed so the real problem can be addressed, leading to more social empowerment and engagement in controlling and monitoring the management of such resources. This will not be possible if the youth, women, traditional and indigenous peoples are not included in the broad discussions to find a solution.

Collective participation plus medium and long-term goals will not be enough if the results of actions – such as the 8th World Water Forum – are not oriented towards practical immediate actions and solutions (through the prioritization of good management) which aim at preventing social problems and conflicts of interest from growing. We must share existing solutions and technologies, driving businesses to share their know-how with other organizations and the society as a whole by putting in efforts to highlight good initiatives without forgetting innovation.

In view of the paramount urgency and value water resources mean to society, other delicate issues shall also be taken into consideration, for example pricing or the creation of a high leadership global summit under the UN. The Sustainability Focus Group will release the Parintins Document so to maximize the participation of several societal groups and promote the outcomes of the 8th World Water Forum’s. This document, which is a result of the participation and opinions gathered in the pre-events, will be released during the Water World Council in Stockholm (Sweden) during the Stockholm World Water Week in late August. The 8th World Water Forum has given Brazil – the country that holds a fair share of the world’s water supplies – the opportunity to shine and lead an agenda that will represent a more relevant social and economic factor than climate change.


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