By PETER BRABECK-LETMATHE
In recognition of World Water Day tomorrow (March 22), Nestlé SA
Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe writes about the need for management of
the world's water resources in a sustainable way. He calls on Canadians
to focus on how they can help to preserve, protect and strengthen their
water systems for the future.
TORONTO, March 21, 2014 /CNW/ - Today, as we mark the 21st anniversary of World Water Day, close to a billion people around the
world lack minimal access to water for their most basic needs -
hydration, cooking and personal hygiene. According to an article by Gérard Payen, chairman of Aquafed and Member of the United Nations Secretary
General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, at least 1.9 billion
people use drinking water that is unsafe and dangerous for their
health, while 3.4 billion people use water of doubtful quality, at
least from time to time.
More than 2.6 billion lack access to proper sanitation, more than 1.5
billion are living without access to adequate energy and more than 1
billion will go to bed hungry tonight.
We are already withdrawing more freshwater for human use than what is
sustainably available -- and withdrawals continue to increase to grow
more food with a higher share of more water-intensive proteins, to
generate more energy and to supply a rapidly urbanizing global
Not surprisingly, water insecurity was listed as one of the top three
global risks in the World Economic Forum 2014 Global Risk Report. This
is mankind's most pressing challenge.
It will only be resolved by co-operative, pragmatic efforts and a
single-minded focus by those in academia, civil society, government,
NGOs and private enterprise to find effective, economical and
sustainable solutions to preserve our water supply for generations to
Why does Nestlé care about water sustainability? Some say it is because
of our bottled water business. That's incorrect. Bottled water is a
small part of our business and the entire bottled water industry uses
well less than a small fraction of 1% of the world's sustainably
Nestlé is the world's largest food company. Worldwide, 70% of all water
withdrawn for human use goes to farms to grow food. We are more
concerned about the ability of the farmers we contract with around the
world to continue to grow food for us and ultimately, you, the
consumer, to have access to truly safe water. My personal water blog www.Water-Challenge.com outlines some of the dimensions of the challenges ahead.
Water shortages could trigger shortfalls in food production. The risk
here is of shortfalls of 30% in global cereal production by 2030 due to
water shortages. From 2008 onwards, prices for staple foods have soared
to three times the level in 2002 to 2004, a first warning of worse
things to come.
It will primarily be food availability and prices that transform an
increasing number of local water issues into a global crisis resulting
in further and, possibly, significant increases in food prices,
particularly staple foods. This is something that we at Nestlé believe
should be avoided -- not because of our profit margin but because of
the social and political turmoil from price increases and the possible
shortfalls in basic food of 30% and its societal repercussions.
Increasingly, water is also the choke point for producing energy and, as
a result, economic development. You can see this risk in China and
other emerging economies with rapidly growing amounts of freshwater
needed for thermal power generation, hence the focus of World Water Day
this year on water and energy. Once several fast-growing economies run
into these kinds of difficulties, it will have serious repercussions
for the world economy.
Is water a priceless resource? Yes, it still is in most places. And when
there isn't an adequate price attached to water, when it is free or
distributed at heavily distorted prices, we see its value massively
reduced, ultimately at a high cost for society and the environment.
There is one exception to this pricing: water as a human right - water
that is safe, accessible, acceptable, affordable and can be obtained
without discrimination. Here again, government control and
responsibility are at the forefront. I think that for the minimum basic
need for drinking, cooking and basic hygiene it should be free for
those who cannot afford it. A showcase for me is the South African
government's 2001 Free Basic Water policy as part of its integrated
rural development strategy and urban renewal program. It allows for
every household to get 6,000 litres of water per month at no cost, if
unable to pay. This is calculated at 25 litres per person per day for a
family of eight.
For all other uses, water should at least cover the infrastructure cost
and possibly have an additional value agreed or negotiated among the
main users. Subsidized or free water threatens water security, the
environment and, ultimately, long-term food security. Agriculture,
where we are experiencing the most pressing challenges, is also the
sector with the greatest opportunity for significant, sustainable
solutions. To illustrate, the water withdrawn for agricultural use
today is almost 2.5 times the physiological need of the plants. Given
that fact, few would argue that major change isn't required.
Science, complemented by new technologies, can make the greatest
contribution towards improved water efficiency. Some examples include
computerized irrigation, water metering, reverse osmosis and
Before they celebrate the next World Water Day, there are a few
initiatives individual Canadians should focus on to help preserve,
protect and strengthen their water systems, including calling on
government to make water and sewer infrastructure development and
maintenance a priority, as well as make all residential, commercial and
industrial water takers pay their fair share of the real cost of water
Peter Brabeck-Letmathe is Chairman of Nestlé S.A.
SOURCE: Nestlé Waters Canada