We should look to nature for solutions to the global water crisis. Here’s why

Water Crisis UN 2018

WMO/Luke Romick A child in the village of Mcuba, Swaziland

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Andrea Erickson, Acting Managing Director, Water Security, The Nature Conservancy

New York City faced a challenge in the 1990s: the city needed a new water filtration system to serve its nearly 8 million people. But the prospect of spending $6-10 billion on a new water treatment plant, and another $100 million on annual operating costs, was daunting. So city officials took a closer look at the source of their water: the Catskill Mountains.

Water from the Catskills flows through 120 miles of forests, farmlands and towns to reach New York City. When that landscape is healthy, it acts as a natural purifying system, but certain development and agricultural practices can result in impaired water quality. For city officials, reaching out to local farmers and landowners and compensating them to restore and conserve their lands in the watershed, combined with some land acquisition, proved to be significantly cheaper than building and operating a new treatment plant.

New York’s example showed the benefits of public-private partnerships in such situations, and demonstrated that unlocking nature-based solutions can be cheaper and more efficient and produce additional benefits compared to conventional built, “grey” infrastructure. This was the moment of inspiration for water funds.

Water funds are a collective investment vehicle in which stakeholders collaborate to implement nature-based source water protection. Downstream water users invest in upstream land and water management practices, compensating upstream land managers for restoration activities and better management of agricultural land. Rural landowners and communities can benefit economically from these investments as well. Mutual benefits are the hallmark of successful water funds.

 An aerial view of the Wax Lake Delta, Louisiana.

An aerial view of the Wax Lake Delta, Louisiana.
Image: Carlton Ward Jr

Given that more than 40% of source watersheds worldwide have been degraded by development, resulting in impaired downstream flows, nature-based source water protection can be one of the most effective ways to improve water quality and quantity for urban areas. A study by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) estimated that four out of five cities could improve water quality using nature-based solutions, and potentially 1,000 cities globally would see a positive return on investment based on reductions in total utility expenditures. Furthermore, these solutions often deliver other forms of value, such as increased agricultural yields, improved community health and carbon sequestration.

One example is the Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund, which addressed the challenge of severe erosion and nutrient runoff into Nairobi’s water supplies by helping upstream farmers implement practices that both reduce erosion and increase agricultural yields. Today, such activities in the watershed help sustain the water supply for 9.3 million people and will generate an estimated $21.5 million in long-term benefits for local communities and businesses.

The future of water security

Since TNC launched its first water fund in Quito, Ecuador, in 2000, we’ve established 34 water funds around the world, with 30 more in development throughout Latin America, North America, Africa and Asia. But this is not enough. By 2025, at least two-thirds of the world’s population will likely be living in water-stressed areas. The question we face now is: how do we implement these solutions at the scale needed to truly make a dent in global water insecurity?

It’s not enough for TNC to keep developing water funds, though we will. We also need more partners in the public and private sectors to invest in these practices.

Utilities are one of those key partners – especially companies such Veolia and Suez, with an international presence. Veolia, for example, is exploring how changing agricultural practices and ecosystem enhancements can ensure a more sustainable water supply. Suez, meanwhile, is incorporating wetland restoration into its practices to improve water quality and reduce operating costs. In addition, there are many examples of visionary local utilities actively investing in both green and grey infrastructure to deliver sustainable water to the communities and cities they serve.

The Upper Tana Watershed, Kenya.

The Upper Tana Watershed, Kenya.
Image: Nick Hall

Of course, it is agriculture and industry, not domestic use, that represents the vast majority of water consumption. Businesses with high water needs have an enormous interest in ensuring they have stable water supplies, and can have an equally enormous impact on global water security. Consider the example of PepsiCo. All along its supply chain and production processes, PepsiCo depends on reliable water supplies, and the company has accordingly established an integrated approach to watershed management, including partnerships with TNC to restore watersheds in Latin America and the United States.

To date, more than 100 corporations have invested more than $38m in water funds. Having more private-sector actors invest seriously in nature-based solutions – and having city and state regulators realize the benefits of these solutions and incorporate them into government oversight – can help us move the needle on these challenges. On top of that, we can protect ecosystems that deliver a range of other functions, including climate mitigation, increased agricultural yields and improved community health. This goes beyond providing clean water – it’s about making human development fundamentally more sustainable around the world.

Nature can deliver better water security for more than a billion people. It’s an ambitious goal – but with the right partnerships and stakeholders involved, we can have a measurable, positive influence on planetary health overall.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Abu Dhabi is investing $250 million in tech start-ups

Energy: new target of 32% from renewables by 2030 agreed by MEPs and ministers

This German supermarket’s shelves are filled with food other stores won’t sell

Royal Navy to unveil future surveillance and reconnaissance requirements next February in Rome

Air pollution: How to end the deaths of 7 million people per year

Draghi: ECB to flood Eurozone and the world with more zero cost money; risk of drowning in cash

DR Congo Ebola centre attacks could force retreat against the deadly disease, warns UN health chief

The Shifting Rhythms of Harmonious China: Ancient, Modern & Eternal

European Semester: The Winter Package explained

This Canadian company transforms plastic waste into building materials

Ensure safety of responders UN Security Council urges, amid worsening DR Congo Ebola outbreak

The final countdown towards achieving 2030 Agenda

How man and machine can work together in the age of AI

Two EU Commissioners fire at will against the US

The why in including palliative care in Universal Health Care

Rapid growth in China post-COVID makes it ripe for investment

‘A new chapter’ dawns for democracy in Guinea-Bissau: top UN official

Coronavirus: ‘An emergency in China, but not yet a global health emergency’

‘Unconscionable’ to kill aid workers, civilians: UN Emergency Coordinator

New rules allow EU consumers to defend their rights collectively

Eritrea sanctions lifted amid growing rapprochement with Ethiopia: Security Council

Malaysia can show the way towards a holistic model for human rights

Coronavirus: Commission proposes a Digital Green Certificate

ECB money bonanza not enough to revive euro area, Germany longs to rule with stagnation

EU-U.S Joint statement on the humanitarian emergency in Tigray

UN rights chief welcomes new text to protect rights of peasants and other rural workers

State aid: Commission approves €790 million Croatian guarantee scheme for companies with export activities affected by coronavirus outbreak

How will the EU face the migration crisis when the Turkish threats come true?

Pesticides: MEPs propose blueprint to improve EU approval procedure

Hazy ‘breakthrough’ saves PM May, leaves Ireland in limbo: Brexit

European Junior Enterprises to address the significant skills mismatch in the EU between school and employment

Women in Medicine: An Equality Long Overdue

In a time of rising xenophobia, more important than ever to ratify Genocide Convention

6 ways countries can prepare for the next infectious disease pandemic

After the European Parliament elections – what happens next?

Stateless Rohingya refugee children living in ‘untenable situation’, UNICEF chief

Zero carbon by 2050 is possible. Here is what we need to do

State aid: Commission approves €511 million Italian scheme to compensate commercial rail passenger operators for damages suffered due to coronavirus outbreak

Germany’s fiscal and financial self-destructive policies

Palliative care: an indispensable component for a better quality of life

2014 will bring more European Union for the big guys and less for the weak

Parliament and Council agree drastic cuts to plastic pollution of environment

EU will not deliver on promises without democratic accountability

COP21 Breaking News: Conference of Youth Focuses on Hard Skills to Drive Greater Climate Action

The West – the EU and the US – is writing off Turkey’s Erdogan

These 3 innovative solar farms show why this renewable technology is hot right now

Idlib deal could save three million ‘from catastrophe’ says UN chief, as militants are urged to lay down arms

‘Favour dialogue’ over violence, UN chief urges all parties following clashes in Mali’s capital

Drug laws must be amended to ‘combat racial discrimination’, UN experts say

Global Citizen-Volunteer Internships

London is becoming the world’s first National Park City

MEPs want ambitious funding for cross-border projects to connect people

Voices of Afghan women ‘must be heard at the table in the peace process and beyond’ UN deputy chief tells Security Council

5 factors driving the Chinese lawtech boom

Afghanistan: UN mission condemns deadly attack near Kabul airport

Detecting online child sexual abuse requires strong safeguards

Doctors without borders

This powerful tool will help corporates make the switch to 100% renewables

Germany readies to pay for the Brexit gap in EU finance

Helping small businesses fight cybercrime benefits the global ecosystem

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s