Towards a water wise world

The growing water crisis is humanity’s next big challenge. In this film, the water institute SIWI explains how this will change the way we live and do business. There are solutions, but we need to act now.

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In 2030, half the global population will live in a water-scarce area and global demand for freshwater will exceed available supply by 40 per cent.

“Everybody will need to change – this is about our survival,” says Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director of SIWI.

The water crisis leads to increased competition between sectors and countries and is consistently ranked among the biggest risks in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report.

Exploding demand and extreme weather

Torgny Holmgren sees two major reasons for the increased demand. One is population growth, where the global population may peak at 11 billion. Another is increased consumption, partly because more people can now afford previously unattainable goods and services. Production requires water, for a smart phone you may for example need 13,000 litres.

Having too little water is one problem. Getting too much, another. Not knowing when the next rain will fall really complicates matters.

“Most people will experience climate change through water. Extreme weather causes floods and droughts, while unpredictable rainfalls lead to crop failure,” explains Therese Sjömander Magnusson, Chief Operations Officer at SIWI.

Rising global temperatures also increase the spread of infectious waterborne diseases. Today, more people die from diarrhea – mainly caused by dirty water – than by HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. 

Shifting to a water wise future

So, what are the solutions? SIWI works with governments, organizations and businesses to develop smarter policies and better practices.

“We focus on water governance – who gets what water, when and how. Since water is a limited resource, it must be used efficiently and fairly,” Sjömander Magnusson says.

Wastewater treatment is fundamental, at least 80 per cent of used water is released untreated, wreaking havoc on ecosystems and contributing to easily preventable diseases like diarrhea. Investing in decent sanitation for all would save lives, improve economies and pay for itself four times over. But today, 3 in 10 lack clean water and 6 in 10 can’t go to a safely managed toilet.

Another top priority is to make societies and food systems more resilient to extreme weather and unpredictable rains. Traditional and nature-based solutions must be combined with modern engineering.

Water as a business priority

“Water is rising on business agendas. Risks, resource management and consumer demand are elevating water to a core business concern. Many industries now assess their water footprint and risk exposure,” says Nicolai Schaaf, Programme Manager at SIWI.

In areas such as wastewater treatment, reuse of water and water-efficient production, innovative pioneers are rapidly changing the game.

“Water challenges are truly global. We must all join forces to find new water wise solutions,” Torgny Holmgren says.