Water is resilience: call for collective action on water access

9 min read
Image: WaterAid/ Sibtain Haider

Amid the global response to COVID-19, the Water Resilience Coalition has partnered with WaterAid in a call for urgent and collective action to propel access to clean water to the top of the corporate agenda.

Combining the commitment of the United Nations Global Compact Water Resilience Coalition with the expertise of WaterAid, we’re joining forces to inspire ambitious corporate action to accelerate water and hygiene access through #WaterIsResilience.

A staggering three billion people do not have access to water and soap at home, leaving them unable to wash their hands as a first line of defence against COVID-19. As the world waits for a vaccine, good hygiene – which is only possible with reliable access to water and soap – is one of the most powerful interventions for combatting transmission.

Collective impact

Together with global business leaders, we’re spearheading a collective corporate response in this urgent time of need and leading the transition to a water resilient future for business and communities.

We are calling for companies to join us in acting at speed and scale, leveraging their global operational footprints to fast-track access to water and promote hygiene awareness with employees and consumers, within supply chains and in communities where they do business.

While the pandemic has had global impact, vulnerability is magnified in communities with fragile healthcare systems and poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities – these are the systems and geographies which many globalised supply chains rely upon. COVID-19 has brought global interdependence to the fore and accelerated the underlying risks to business continuity including climate change, water security and fragile supply chains. To overcome COVID-19 and mitigate against future global health and climate crises, a cross-border, cross-sector approach to freshwater resilience and sustainable water access at its centre is critical.

A student washing her hands at a handwashing station provided by WaterAid at a school in Mpolonjeni, Lubombo Province, eSwatini.
A student washing her hands at a handwashing station provided by WaterAid at a school in Mpolonjeni, Lubombo Province, eSwatini.
Image: WaterAid/ Nyani Quarmyne/ Panos

Resilience through COVID-19 and beyond

Investment in water and hygiene interventions is not just an investment in COVID-19 recovery, it is an investment in long-term business resilience.

Resilient companies are built on healthy communities and ecosystems. Progressive companies understand water stewardship is not just corporate social responsibility, but an opportunity to secure business continuity.

The climate crisis makes access to clean water even harder: in droughts, fresh water sources dry up; in floods, water resources are contaminated; and rising seas cause increased salinity of groundwater. This, coupled with already weak WASH systems in many developing countries, is leaving billions of people vulnerable to climate and health risks. Two billion people worldwide already live in water-stressed areas. With no action, by 2050 half the world’s population will live in countries under water stress, with huge impacts on their health and livelihoods.

For companies with supply chains in water-stressed and WASH-vulnerable countries, safeguarding employees and local communities is paramount to both operational and financial security. There is a clear business case for the synergy resulting from investment in sustainable water solutions that benefit people, planet and, ultimately, commercial success. For every US$1 invested in WASH, an estimated $4.30 is generated in increased productivity. COVID-19 is an opportunity to lead through water stewardship, embedding tangible WASH targets in corporate sustainability strategy to deliver long-term business resilience.

A student washes their hands at Amboniandrefana Public Priary School in Madagascar.
Image: WaterAid/Ernest Randriarimalala

Act now

  • Join the Water Resilience Coalition, private sector leadership striving for a water-resilient future.
  • Partner with WASH expert WaterAid to make sustainable changes in your supply chain and surrounding vulnerable communities.
  • Follow the Pacific Institute, CEO Water Mandate and WaterAid Framework, which details practical actions your company can take to accelerate its COVID-19 response within operations, supply chains and surrounding communities where workers live, paving the way for a ‘blue’ economic recovery and long-term resilience.

We’re committed

WaterAid UK, Chief Executive Officer, Tim Wainwright:

Clean water is key to building resilience against two of the biggest crises facing the world today – COVID-19 and climate change – yet nearly 800 million people lack access to this basic human right. WaterAid is working towards a world where everyone everywhere has clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene, and our mission has never been more urgent, but we can’t do it alone. We are proud to be working with the UN Global Compact Water Resilience Coalition, whose commitment is critical to helping us achieve our collective ambition of a better future for all.

United Nations Global Compact, CEO and Executive Director, Sanda Ojiambo:

COVID-19 is one of the greatest challenges of our time. The freshly launched UN Global Compact Water Resource Coalition stands at the ready to join WaterAid and additional partners to promote access to water and hygiene at this time of pandemic. This initiative demonstrates clearly how business can play a leading role on the issue of long-term fresh water resiliency – and how rigorous hygiene can dramatically reduce the spread of the virus around the world.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, Global Vice President of Sustainability, Ezgi Barcenas:

We are proud to be amongst the founders of the Water Resilience Coalition to challenge ourselves and encourage others to take steps to make measurable improvements in water availability, quality and access. Only together can we shape tomorrow.

Cargill, Vice President of Sustainability, Jill Kolling:

At Cargill, we believe access to clean, safe water is fundamental for communities to thrive. Increasingly, poor water availability and quality threaten many communities around the world. Which is why, now more than ever, we’re proud to join forces with members of the Water Resilience Coalition to develop and scale solutions that ensure everyone has reliable access to access to safe water for drinking, sanitation and hygiene.

The Coca-Cola Company, Senior Vice President and Chief Communications, Public Affairs, Sustainability and Marketing Assets Officer, Bea Perez:

Keeping in line with our company's purpose to refresh the world and make a difference, we are excited to join the Water Resilience Coalition and WaterAid's campaign dedicated to promoting the role of clean water and hygiene. Access to clean water is critical – and this year has highlighted the need to do more. Joining this coalition builds on the work The Coca-Cola Company and our system partners have invested in for more than a decade, which has provided access to clean water and sanitation for more than 10.6 million people globally, including more than 420,000 during the pandemic. It is time we take collective, urgent action, and we encourage other companies to join this initiative to help propel this forward.

Colgate-Palmolive Company, Chief Supply Chain Officer, Mike Corbo:

At Colgate, creating a healthier future for people, their pets and our planet is at the heart of our purpose. In collaboration with partners like WaterAid and the Water Resilience Coalition, we’re working across six continents to provide, protect and preserve reliable access to clean water, sanitation systems and hygiene education – especially around handwashing – so vital to public health in the communities we serve. In the face of COVID-19 and climate change, we are accelerating our efforts around the world and encourage all companies to do the same.

Diageo, Chief Sustainability Officer, Ewan Andrew:

It is a basic human right that everyone in the world should have access to clean water. We all have a part to play in making this happen. It’s only through collective action and collaborative initiatives that we can address this global necessity, so we’re delighted to join together with WaterAid and the Water Resilience Coalition to help make this a reality.

Dow, Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President of Environment, Health and Safety, Mary Draves:

Water is essential. Essential to life. Essential to communities. Essential to companies like Dow who manufacture raw materials that are vital to the world, including critical applications like healthcare, homecare and cleaning that address pandemic relief and recovery. As a member of the United Nations Global Compact Water Resilience Coalition, we are committed to the #WaterIsResilience initiative. Handwashing is a critical line of defense, but billions are without access to clean water and soap. When clean, fresh water is scarce, how do you prioritize the needs of water today while also preserving water for the future? No one can do this alone – we must collaborate in new and meaningful ways to manage water more sustainably.

Ecolab, Chairman and CEO, Douglas M. Baker, Jr.:

As the world continues to face unprecedented challenges, the need for clean water is key to building healthy communities and ecosystems. The Water Resilience Coalition is bringing together businesses, governments and community organizations like WaterAid to drive urgency in preserving the world’s water resources and ensuring access to safe, clean water. Together, we are driving toward a more resilient world with enough water for people, nature and economies to thrive.

Gap Inc., Chief Legal & Compliance Officer, Julie Gruber:

Gap Inc. is proud to partner with WaterAid and the Water Resilience Coalition to continue to support collective action for clean water for all. We believe access to clean water is a human right and is even more essential now as a critical resource for mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 during these unprecedented times.

HEINEKEN, Chief Executive Officer, Dolf van den Brink:

Access to clean water and hygiene is essential for life, and even more so in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. However, many vulnerable communities do not have access to it. HEINEKEN has been committed from the start to play its part and support communities that are most impacted by the pandemic. One example is the partnership of the HEINEKEN Africa Foundation with WaterAid and World Vision, which will support vulnerable communities in eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa with access to water, soap and hygiene information. For the long run we all need to work together to protect water, so communities living in water-stressed areas can continue to thrive. With ‘Every Drop’, our 2030 strategy, we aim to do exactly that.

Kurita Water Industries Ltd., Managing Director, Yasuo Suzuki:

At Kurita Water Industries Ltd., our corporate philosophy is “Study the properties of water, master them, and we will create an environment in which nature and man are in harmony.” Through our participation in the Water Resilience Coalition, we our collaborating with other top global companies to resolve the uneven distribution of water and lack of fresh-water resources due to climate change. We believe that these actions will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by reducing the number of people who cannot access clean water to wash their hands. At the same time, through donations to WaterAid Japan, we are supporting people in countries and regions where it is difficult to obtain safe and clean water. In the African countries of Eswatini and Mozambique, where cases of the COVID-19 disease are rising, WaterAid is helping to repair the water supply facilities that use community groundwater. Through this collaborative effort, people will now have access to fresh water for washing their hands, which will aid in preventing additional COVID-19 infections.

PVH Corp., Senior Vice President Corporate Responsibility, Marissa Pagnani McGowan:

The COVID-19 pandemic has further underscored how critical water stewardship is in mitigating the climate crisis and supporting healthy, resilient communities. As an industry leader, we have an important role to play in the preservation of water, and we are committed to continuing to implement collective action projects in our most water stressed communities, while also sharing resources and efforts with our partners and peers to ensure we can continue to scale the impact of this work.

Water.org, President, Jennifer Tisdel Schorsch:

Now more than ever, access to safe water and sanitation is critical to the health and resilience of the global community. Handwashing is a front-line defense, yet that simple act is impossible without water. And without a toilet at home, using public facilities makes social distancing a challenge.

This article was originally published here on the CEO Water Resilience Coalition website.

Logos of the Water Resilience Coalition and WaterAid