The Hague, March 2000
At the start of the 21st century the challenge of providing enough clean water and adequate sanitation to meet the needs of everyone is rightly positioned at the top of the world agenda. With commitment and action by all sectors of our societies, including business and industry, we can together find the solutions for water and sanitation in the coming years.
Recognising their role, and against the background of the World Water Commission's work, eleven international corporations from three broad sectors of business and industry - water services, consumer products, and water engineering and consultancy - have agreed a joint statement. This describes the continuing contribution they can make and the constructive role they wish to play in working to solve pressing water issues worldwide for the future.
The statement addresses three broad areas of action:
and highlights three further cross-cutting themes concerning engagement within society:
- supply and allocation of water
- use of water and protection of water quality
- developing institutions for the management of water
These form the basis for their ongoing participation in delivering the world water vision for the 21st century.
- raising public awareness
- sharing knowledge and technology
- building partnerships.
Supply and allocation of water
Water is an economic good and its economic value should be recognised in the allocation of scarce water resources to competing uses. While this should not prevent people from meeting their basic needs for water services at affordable prices, the price for water must be set at a level that encourages conservation and wise use.
The private sector has a growing role to play in the supply and management of water resources. Investment by the private sector will be critical to bridging the gap between supply and demand for water. Effective pricing of water as a valued resource will stimulate industry to invest time, talent and money in the efficient supply and management of fresh water for all.
The private sector would welcome initiatives for partnership with multilateral financial institutions to catalyse water-related investments in developing countries. Private water distributors can contribute on the basis of their operating experience and capacity to mobilise financial resources for water and sanitation services, provided that legal, financial and institutional frameworks are in place.
Governments have a continuing responsibility to find a sustainable balance between ensuring affordable water services, particularly for the poor, and mechanisms for effective management of available water resources such as public-private partnerships, tariff systems, guarantee facilities, and economic and fiscal instruments.
The private sector will continue to contribute to water saving by helping to improve distribution efficiency.
Use of water and protection of water quality
Without action by all users, demand for water will continue to outstrip potential supply, particularly in areas of water stress. However, there is vast scope to reduce rates of water consumption, to minimise impact on water quality and to step up water re-use, so increasing the availability of water. Industry has an important role to play, by ensuring it minimises the impact of its own operations and through engagement upstream with raw material suppliers and downstream with consumers and other users.
The efficient use of water in manufacturing operations is a priority for industry. Companies will continue to invest to reduce water use and to limit their impact on water quality through reduction in wastewater disposal and increased recycling of water used in manufacture.
Agriculture represents by far the largest user of water. Improving irrigation water management and reducing the impact of agricultural practice on ground and surface water quality must have the highest priority. Many companies who rely on secure supplies of agricultural produce for their raw materials are engaged in promoting sustainable agriculture practice, in their own operations and by their suppliers in the agricultural sector who are ultimately responsible. Such practice, which may include the use of new technologies, ensures that water used in agriculture is conserved and the use of inputs is carefully controlled to reduce the risks of water pollution.
Clean, safe water is also a key resource for the food and drink industry - for bottled waters, for manufacturing food and beverage products and for their preparation by consumers. Companies will therefore contribute to continuous improvement in the management of water resources and will participate in educational programmes on the importance of water conservation and the use of safe water in the preparation of food and drink.
Domestic use of water increases with better hygiene and rising living standards. Increasing use of household and personal hygiene products can also have serious implications for domestic waste water disposal. Investment in technology development and product innovation to reduce domestic consumption of water and to minimise the impact of product use on water quality is a priority for the hygiene sector, working together with consumers to change individual and household behaviour.
Developing institutions for the management of water
The development of Integrated Water Resource Management projects in river basins and catchment regions, is an important institutional innovation that should be exploited widely. Companies accept their shared responsibility to participate as stakeholders, to support measures for drought alleviation and flood control and to function as efficient managers of water addressing opportunities for re-use of water and wastewater.
Decision-making on investment in the supply and management of the distribution of water involves many stakeholders. In developing countries women play a pivotal role as bearers and users of water and as guardians of this resource. The companies support the principle that women should be enabled to participate fully in decision-making on water issues and implementation of solutions at all levels.
Engagement within society
Creation of widespread awareness of the potential water crisis and of the solutions available to meet diverse water needs is essential if sufficient action is to be taken. The companies will continue to contribute to this process in their own fields of activity by educating their own employees, by promoting action in the agricultural sector and by informing the public about ways to reduce water use, limit water pollution and minimise wastewater disposal.
Existing knowledge of best practice techniques and experience in implementing and managing water supply and distribution, sanitation and use is substantial. Many institutions, including those in the private sector, have developed this expertise and can offer it to others engaged in delivering solutions in these fields. The companies involved wish to participate in facilitating access to and transfer of best practice on a continuing basis, where appropriate through such mechanisms as the World Water Council and the Global Water Partnership.
The companies represented - from water services, consumer products, and water engineering and consultancy - welcome partnerships with governments and civil society that promote and facilitate the effective management of fresh water and sanitation. They accept this as the core building block for a future where all our societies enjoy sustainable and equitable access to sufficient water to meet their needs.