Assist. Prof. Vakur Sümer, ORSAM Advisor, Selçuk University
New studies are published everyday on how water resources management problems are evolving. A recent report by CDP on “Global Water”* has also demonstrated that the growing water crisis can have serious consequences for economic activities worldwide. It is, however, a less ordinary report in the sense that the companies’ perceptions of the water (in)security play central role. Having created a quite comprehensive corporate data, CDP report firmly emphasizes the increasing awareness about sustainable water management among the business circles: “A growing number of companies are recognizing that they may need to transform their approaches if they are to meet the challenge of water security and remain competitive.”

CDP, formerly known as Carbon Disclosure Project, is a UK-based organization. Working with large corporations, and preparing reports on behalf of private investors, CDP has been active on a number of issues like climate change, water, supply chains and forests. A breakdown of sources of funding reveals that CDP receives financial support from a range of foundations as well as governments. CDP’s water program, which commenced in 2010, now speaks for the interests of more than 600 investors with some USD 63 trillion in assets.

CDP’s water program is six-years-old. CDP’s water program, as the organization’s official statement reads, “aims to catalyze action, to ensure that water security – one of the most pressing challenges facing the global economy – is accorded the strategic importance it deserves”. The most recent annual report of CDP has an alarming tone in its evolution of today’s water situation at the global level: “Much more needs to be done -particularly in the context of the latest warnings from science, which makes for worrying reading. Thirteen of the world’s 37 largest aquifers have been depleted to the point where regional water availability is threatened. Nearly two-thirds of China’s groundwater, and a third of its surface water, was rated as unfit for human contact last year. California, the world’s 8th largest economy is now in its fourth year of crippling drought. Despite Brazil’s abundance of freshwater, Sao Paulo, its biggest city, is running dry, under the twin pressures of drought and underinvestment.”

As a commentary by select members of the Water Advisory Council of the CDP has aptly put in CDP report, “water is the lifeblood of the economy”. For sound economic systems in today’s world, sustained provision of good-quality and reasonably-priced water is indispensable. Apart from this, corporate water stewardship, a concept which the Report takes seriously, is also vital for water sustainability. That is to say, companies are great potential actors for a water secure future. According to the reported data, the “improved water-efficiency” appears to be the top opportunity. Companies’ potential can be translated into successful results provided that certain incentives are created and water-prudence prevails in economic and investment-related decisions. CDP’s report is a timely contribution to the developing holistic understanding of water among decision makers.

When it comes to what all these mean in the context of Middle East, the story gets more than edgy. The region-wide water availability figures put real strains on companies in the management of their one of the most -literally- valuable inputs, water. However, the problem in the Middle East is even a broader issue than it may be seen through this prism. While the companies in the Middle East are also aware of the so-called “water crisis” and their respective roles for corporate stewardship, the firm and widely-shared need for industrialization in the region for greater wealth, creates a dilemma that raises the question of where the immense amounts of water for increasing industrial output is going to come from.

While agricultural water use appears to be the first and foremost source for redistribution of water among sectoral uses that many eyes turn to, it will be a politically risky decision to take, at least for many countries in the region. The agricultural water use in the Middle East is excessively wasteful in economic terms, but equally “taken-for-granted”. Harms of altering the sectoral balance in a swift fashion could offset the expected benefits of doing so, particularly for the ruling elites which usually opt for continuation of the status quo just for their survival in an increasingly troubled times as regards to shaky regimes in the Middle East.

Perhaps the most feasible way out of this tangle is a “phasing-in and phasing-out” strategy. The political elites should adopt a myriad of small steps for phasing-in the industrial water use while simultaneously phasing-out the excessive water use in an ineffective, but electorally strong farming sector, without causing irritation to the delicate socio-economic setting. With little economic incentive, it will be extremely painful to decrease agricultural water use in this part of the world, even despite the gloomy suspense of drier climates region-wide. Therefore, the burden for such a transformation will be huge and, is to be shared between public authorities and private companies.

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