History and Background

The World Economic Forum has ranked water crises as one of the top three global risks for the past five years. This ranking is based on the views of a thousand leaders from business, academia, international organizations, and civil society outside of the traditional water sector. The world is starting to realize the critical role water plays in our development, our economies, and for the ecosystems on which we all depend.

Over the past 50 years, the world’s population has doubled and global gross domestic product (GDP) has grown tenfold. Agricultural and industrial outputs have boomed, with more than 70 percent of global water abstraction occurring in the food value chain, and cities have grown exponentially. These trends have put water resources under increasing strain, with dire consequences for the world’s population. Water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of the global population and is projected to rise. More than 1.7 billion people live in river basins where water use exceeds recharge. Over 80 percent of wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged – untreated – into our rivers and oceans.

Governments in water-stressed regions seeking to grow their economies will need to decide how to manage competing demands for water. At the same time, increased climate variability and demographic pressures such as urbanization are placing more stress on the system.

In 2009, 2030 WRG published the report “Charting Our Water Future – Economic Frameworks to Inform Decision-making.” It was one of the first attempts to present the relationship between water and the economy at a global scale in a compelling way to an audience outside of the traditional water sector.

In 2015, the report “Securing Water, Sustaining Growth” (Sadoff et al.) was published on behalf of the Global Water Partnership and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) and Development Task Force on Water Security and Sustainable Growth. In addition to providing evidence that linked water and economic development, the report also presented recommendations for increased investments in the water sector.

More recently, in 2017, the World Bank presented the report “Uncharted Waters – The New Economics of Water Scarcity and Variability” (Damania et al), which provides analysis and case studies on how water effects economies, agriculture, cities and their industries, and communities.

If countries maintain a business-as-usual approach to managing water, we can expect a 40 percent gap between freshwater supply and demand by 2030. This gap cannot be closed by one community, company, or country. We all need water and we all need to act to preserve it.