Water shortage becoming growth risk for business, says DEG and WWF report



Posted on 04 April 2011  | 
According to a new study by WWF and German development bank DEG, the shortage of freshwater is not only becoming more and more of an ecological risk, but it also is rapidly becoming a major business growth risk – one that investors need to take into account.

Assessing Water Risk: A Practical Approach for Financial Institutions
, states that climate change, population growth and increasing living standards are contributing to the rising pressure on existing and already scarce water resources, particularly in developing countries. In Southeast Asia and Africa, for example, water shortages constitute a threat to entire ecosystems and to the living standards of the population.

“The availability of water also is becoming a development bottleneck for companies. With the water risk filter we have now developed a new tool to identify such risks to companies and to offer support in water management,” said Dr Peter Thimme, head of DEG’s department for Sustainable Development/Environment.

Access to a sufficient quantity of water of adequate quality, he added, is therefore of considerable economic significance.

“Our intention is to provide the conscientious investor with the knowledge to work with clients toward more sustainable water management, with the aim of mitigating both business and environmental risks,” according to the study.

“Business risk stemming from a company’s relationship to water can be broken into three broad, inter-related categories: physical – as a result of too little, too much or polluted water; regulatory – with dwindling availability and increased pollution, the regulation of water is bound to become stricter; and reputational – public and media awareness of water and how companies are handling this resource is on the rise.

The report goes on to state that “all of these risks can cause disruption of supply and, in worst cases, termination of business operations.”

According to DEG and WWF, 191 out of over 300 companies studied as part of the report showed high potential business risks related to freshwater. Concrete support measures to mitigate these water risks will now have to be initiated, according to the report.

”Sustainable use of water is a responsibility of companies to eco-systems and the local population, which is dependent on this water,” confirms Martin Geiger, head of Freshwater at WWF Germany.

In particular, the report shows that the agribusiness’ are at a particular risk since they sector accounts for 70 percent of global water consumption. If countermeasures are not taken now, water-intensive agricultural produce may become scarce in the future and the companies concerned may face economic risks, according to the report.

The newly developed water risk filter system in the report is intended to identify water-related risks at an early point in time so they can be considered in investment decisions.

The tool also outlines possible courses for action for companies from different industries and regions, which may be threatened by water shortage or pollution, either directly or in their supply chain.

DEG is planning to support the implementation of individual business approaches to improve the situation in a follow-up project financed by funds for technical assistance from the bank. The development finance institution in turn hopes this will cushion the ecological and economic impacts of the ongoing water crisis.

Additionally, the project produced more than 80 detailed and comprehensive country fact sheets on individual water situations and mappings.
Bathing a young child in the April River, Pukapuki village.
Bathing a young child in the April River, Pukapuki village. Freshwater remains relatively unpolluted in Papua New Guinea, but locals are concerned about the effect of mining companies whose byproducts are washed into rivers, with the potential to increase pollution, as well as a sedimentary build-up that can inrease levels of flooding. East Sepik province, Papua New Guinea.
© Brent Stirton / Getty Images / WWF Enlarge

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required