World Water Day 2021: Valuing Water

Written by Becca Harvey, Social Value International’s Membership and Networks Manager

Water is the basis for all life, and without it, we cannot survive. It’s found everywhere on Earth, from the polar ice caps to steamy geysers. And wherever water flows on this planet, you can be sure to find life.

Yet despite the importance of water to sustain all living things,  water is under extreme threat from a growing population, increasing demands of agriculture and industry, and the worsening impacts of climate change.  From Cape Town to Flint, Michigan, and from rural, sub-Saharan Africa to Asia’s teeming megacities, there’s a global water crisis. People are struggling to access the quantity and quality of water they need for drinking, cooking, bathing, handwashing, and growing their food.

Access to clean water is incredibly unevenly distributed, with 785 million people lacking even a basic drinking-water service and at least 2 billion people using a drinking water source contaminated with faeces. And this is only set to get worse, by 2025, it is predicted half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas. That is just 4 years away. 

When put so plainly, the global scale and threat of the water crisis is laid bare, and it can be difficult to imagine how we, as a global community, will ever manage this crisis, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and protect life for all. 

Yet the global community is taking action. On 22 March, 2021, World Water Day will celebrate water and raise awareness of the global water crisis. It will also highlight the invaluable nature of water and a core focus of the day will be to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDG 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030

And interestingly for us, the theme of World Water Day 2021 is valuing water. 

World Water Day 2021 will open up discussions about water using a broader definition of value, highlighting that “The value of water is about much more than its price – water has enormous and complex value for our households, food, culture, health, education, economics and the integrity of our natural environment. If we overlook any of these values, we risk mismanaging this finite, irreplaceable resource.”

For Social Value International, understanding this broader definition of value is our life blood. We believe that without this broader definition of value being accounted for, decision making will continue to be based on the narrow definition of economic value, excluding what matters most to people and the planet. 

Time and time again, we have seen the negative results of using only economic value to drive decision making and the global water crisis is yet another example of this. 

Approaches to understanding and valuing social and environmental value have evolved considerably in recent years and are going mainstream. Two principal frameworks within this sphere are Social Value International’s Social Value Framework, which primarily focuses on social value, and the Natural Capital Coalition’s Protocol, which primarily focuses on natural capital. More information about how these two frameworks relate can be found in the discussion paper published in 2017.

Yet it is clear that more needs to be done. We cannot, and will not, reverse the global water crisis and halt the spread of water scarcity using the same methods that got us here. Governments, policy makers, industries, businesses, investors must adopt this broader definition of value to protect livelihoods, eco systems, families and communities and remember (and plan for) the fact that the value of water goes far, far beyond price. 

The SDGs and the Paris Agreement are steps in the right direction for protecting the planet and the lives who depend on it, SDG 6 for example is to ensure water and sanitation for all. However there is a huge funding gap, with $4 trillion needing to be invested annually to achieve these goals by 2030. It’s clear therefore that every cent invested or channeled towards the SGDs and the Paris Agreement must make the biggest positive impact it can. And this cannot be done, by measuring solely the economic value or economic return on this investment. We must globally adopt a way of measuring and understanding value that includes social, environmental and economic dimensions – without this, we cannot achieve our global goals. 

In the case of water, without a comprehensive understanding of water’s true, multidimensional value, we will be unable to safeguard this critical resource for the benefit of everyone.

So this World Water Day, we implore everyone to take some time, understand what social value is, understand how we can measure it, and most importantly understand how using a broader definition of value will go far beyond the accounting books and will change the way we make decisions and ultimately live – for if we truly want to protect this world, we must make a change today.

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