Communities need to join with the public sector to solve the worldwide water crisis. The problem can no longer be resolved from the top down. This important insight was mentioned during a discussion at the World Water Day conference held at Cape Town International Conference Centre (CTICC).
Delegates from around the world discussed water issues in the urban environment. We attended a session called ‘Changing Mentalities in the Public and Private Sector,’ which explored the role of each in regard to the worldwide challenges faced by climate change.
The panel discussion with representatives from organisations around the world opened with an important point – the private and public sectors need to have more sustainable practices.
How would the public sector need to change to ensure water security into the future?
Julia Bucknall (Manager of the Bank’s central unit for Water, World Bank) suggested that ‘the public sector needs to be adapted for individual needs, to ensure the right decisions are made and assets are protected. We need to think further about how the private sector can contribute to the wider agenda.’
We need transparency
Margaret Cately-Carlson (World Economic Forum) believes that public authorities need to own and protect the water through setting rules and allocating ground water. At the same time the public authorities need to protect the poor. However it is essential that future contracts are transparent.
According to Nestlé (Sanjeev Raghubic, Health and Environmental Manager) the situation could be improved by looking outside of industry borders and interacting with the locals.
‘We need water partnerships.’
Wandha Gorender (Water and Environmental Operations Group) agreed that ‘since 2008 there is heightened awareness of water quality. We need to look at the entire supply chain. There are many weaknesses in the system. We need to manage business risk.’
Bottom-up initiatives are the way forward
A major problem that we still face in today’s society is that a huge proportion of people still do not have access to clean water, let alone sanitation facilities.
‘We need to get to the community level to develop systems that would work for them. Water is a human right. We need to work from the bottom up,’ said Pancho Ndebele (Envelo).
Tony Turton (Director, Touchstone Resources) suggested that franchising is a future possibility for the water industry. Although this may not be suitable for each country, ‘it is important to create partnerships to address common goals and look at government initiatives,’ replied Gorender.
Ndebele agreed ‘it is clear that one size does not fit all. A main priority is to create innovative solutions for the poorest in rural areas.’
It is important to remember that having a clean source of drinking water does not cure poverty. It provides them with their basic human need.
What about climate change?
John Mathews from Conservation International, a member of the audience, asked about how the risk of climate change is changing public and private partnership?
Africa has dealt with climatic extremes for a long time and it is set to increase. Educating society about the risks of climate change is essential. When developing new initiatives to help combat water issues it is imperative that we look at both long and short term solutions. With an increasing population it would be a more realistic option to reduce our reliance on water in industry. Water recycling opportunities need to be considered and implemented.
‘Many countries don’t manage water sufficiently, as there are no follow ups to problems raised. Water does not have a high enough priority. If you give water to one community it is normally taken from somewhere else,’ said Cately-Carlson.
In summary Turton believed that we need to focus on the 5 C’s:
- Consumers need to convert to custodians
- Corporations need to work responsibly and sustainably
- National and international initiatives need to be Coordinated
- Convergence of locals, government and the public and private sector is essential
- Communicate the message of hope
It was clear from the beginning that there are still many issues concerning water, but it’s time to stop talking and take action together! Both the public and private sectors have their own roles to play but their needs to be a collective voice so each can work together successfully.