Rethinking Our Relationship with Water

23 Apr 2021
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Water flows through the three essential pillars of sustainable development—economic, social, and environmental. While water is inexorably linked to the development of societies, cultures, and countries, the ground reality stands out in stark contrast. The most drastic conditions are faced by Asia’s two mega countries—China and India. In India, more than 50% of the population does not have access to safe drinking water. Globally, the situation remains dire. According to researchers at MIT, around 52% of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed regions by 2050.

Sustainable water management is more crucial than ever if we want to promote inclusive development, sustain our resources, and facilitate the functions of the ecosystem. Translating this vision into reality requires efforts that go beyond the public sector. A stronger and robust water infrastructure system that offers solutions to the mounting challenges is the need of the hour. This can be achieved through an end-to-end collaboration amongst all stakeholders—policymakers, government stakeholders, corporates, civil society organisations, and people themselves.

Building a better future

The approach to resolve the continuing water crisis in the country through an all-out focus on transforming a particular sector has not worked out effectively in the last few years. It is vital to concentrate efforts and solve problems unique to a specific area by involving local authorities in successfully deploying effective water management strategies. Failing to do so, the price would have to be borne by the poorest and the most marginalized, manifesting in the form of poor health.

At Diageo, water is directly associated with human rights. With strong focus on WASH, Diageo has consistently aimed at providing access to water to communities across various states. Through successful collaboration with local authorities, we have implemented various water replenishment projects, including restorations of ponds for better holding capacity, channelizing treated wastewater for underground recharge, pipe supply connection, and the installation of borewells. More than 1.2 lakh people benefitted from our various initiatives that replenished more than 2 Lakh m3 of water. Communities who have benefited from our initiatives are from the states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh.

For 2021, Diageo is adopting a more intensive approach to water stewardship, along with emphasis on community WASH. We are on our way to replenish another 2 Lakh m3 of water in water-stressed areas of Karnataka and Maharashtra. To achieve our objectives, we are in the process of implementing 18 projects across 17 villages within 15 km of our manufacturing units in Nanded, Baramati, and Kumbalgodu. We are undertaking initiatives such as rainwater recharge, conserving water for irrigation, improving soil holding capacity through afforestation, creating structures to slow run-off, and even undertaking lake water harvesting. In addition, we are working towards sanitation activities focusing on provision of infrastructure in schools and communities, but more importantly, sensitization campaigns. This is of critical importance, since the need for hygiene and sanitation would only be higher in the post-pandemic way of life.

Progressing to the next level

On a broader scale, in September 2015, the heads of States from across the world congregated at the United Nations headquarters to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with Goal 6 aimed at achieving universal and equitable access to safe drinking water for everyone. We are now in the ‘Decade of Action’. With less than a decade left to realize the commitments made under Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), now is the time to accelerate efforts on all fronts.

Committing to leading the charge for environmental conservation, Diageo has launched the ‘Society 2030: Spirit of Progress’ agenda. Our plan reflects our determination to work towards a low-carbon future by harnessing 100% renewable energy across our direct operations. In line with the UN’s 2030 SDGs, Diageo plans to produce every drink with 30% less water to achieve a net positive water impact. We will also deliver over 150 community water projects, not just in India but across the world.

The road ahead

The linkages between water and sustainable development are numerous, while at the same time, complex. Water sustainability is a pressing issue. We need collective action to improve the current water crisis, be it water resource governance or universal water security. The future requires multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral collaboration where governments, academia, and private bodies are working together to implement effective strategies to address these challenges.

The role of corporates is even more essential for the in-depth expertise, technologies, and unique capabilities they bring to the table. From rethinking water management at the manufacturing level to deploying programs in communities where they operate, enterprises hold the potential to transform the present situation and create a better future for all, bringing communities, even countries, closer to 2030 goals.

The article is authored by Sangeeta S Thakral, Head of CSR & Sustainability, Diageo India for India CSR.
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