How Can Everybody Get Access to Water?

water drop
water drop

My world tends to revolve around water. At Grundfos, our products connects us with around 800 million people and their water needs every day. Our pumps makes drinking water available to them or removes their wastewater. They play important parts in keeping water infrastructure running in megacities and in remote areas alike. Tremendous and varied tasks.

In my work, I get acquainted with the issues, connected to all of this. When talking to and visiting partners and colleagues all over the world. And, to be honest, it can be shocking. In Denmark, where I live, we are lucky. Plenty of clean drinking water, and in the situations, with too much water, problems are quickly handled. This is not the case other places around the world.

Let there be no doubt: there are plenty of critical, water related problems. Yet, they are matters which I believe can be resolved if we all join forces to handle them correctly.

The UN's Sustainable Development Goal number six concerning an ambition of equal access to water and sanitation for all by 2030 addresses this. Equal access for all people in all societies and at all levels.

Ambitious targets. Difficult ones, which will need a lot of work. But necessary goals, which very correctly and encouragingly now gets broad, political attention. At the World Economic Forum's summit in Davos, water was yet again highlighted as a top global risk in the future. At the COP21 in Paris, climate was on top of the agenda - which is of course also important in this respect, seeing that water and energy are closely interconnected issues. And, actually, in my world, these issues are also very closely connected, as our pumps with their energy efficient attributes can contribute to solving climate issues, when handling water and wastewater.

Water scarcity is already a substantial problem in today's world. More than 40 percent of the world's population is affected by this - and this number is expected to rise. Challenges lies in, for instance, bringing clean drinking water to the world's growing, urban populations, or supplying water for irrigation to farmers. Tasks, which are key in order to make our society develop. In the same time, climate related issues such as droughts and floods changes what used to be the normal water cycle.

Around the world, billions of litres of drinking water simply disappears before ever reaching consumers, other places, water is so scarce that there are no drops to spare, yet management of resources doesn't reflect this, and ironically enough, there are places too, where there are simply too much water, and the problem lies in getting rid of it.

We see examples of these issues each and every day at Grundfos. In close collaboration with our partners, we come up with solutions to them. The technology is already available. We just need to apply it in the right way, using the right business models. Better water distribution in major cities all around the world, where smart pumping saves drinking water. Clever, solar-powered answers to the question of bringing water to remote areas in India hit by drought. Safe and reliable ways of protecting vulnerable areas from effects of floods in Indonesia and water kiosks in Kenya, where intelligent payment methods make sure that consumers only pay for what they get, and that, in turn, water utilities are payed and thereby have the resources to keep systems running.

Returning to talking water on a broader scale, I'll start by re-stating the obvious: Water is the single most important necessity for life. This might be the most evident statement, you'll read all day, but bear with me, there's a point in here. Exactly because water is an invaluable resource, I believe that the best way of protecting and actually also making sure it is available in the right quality for as many people as possible is to put a price on it. Water in the right quality should cost something. This will make water sound business and by doing so, it will be much more likely that more people are motivated to take better care of water, and actually buying the water used and only use the quantities needed. In this way, distributors, technology-providers, sellers and buyers can build sustainable business on water, and, in my opinion, help preserve the resource and drive the hunt for the exactly right solutions to the very varied challenges.

The important part in this doesn't lie in the fact that Grundfos and our technology play a part in making water flow all around the world. It lies in the fact that resolving these issues must be handled in close cooperation with trusted partners. As I see it, the challenges at hand are much too severe to make it plausible that one state, NGO or enterprise can handle them alone. We need to work together, learn from each other and collectively come up with the right answers for a given challenge.

Just recently, I had the privilege of joining a discussion with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kristian Jensen, and Secretary General of the Danish Refugee Council, Andreas Kamm. Here we discussed the ever rising need of water in refugee camps around the world. A need, which, I'm sorry to say, is only getting bigger as the world develops. Here, part of the discussion was on how to create sustainable business models for the refugee societies. Making sure that movements wouldn't necessarily be water in, money out. Rather, money as well as water should be circulated in the camps and their surrounding areas, generating more value, more water and better lives for refugees and their neighbours around the world.

While at the same time ensuring that there are resources available for refugee communities to buy what they need, when they need it, instead of relying on donations. But if we are to accomplish such feats, we need to help each other, and stop seeing this as something states, NGO's or companies should or could handle alone.

The same goes for relationships between business innovators, who together can develop even better solutions to the world's water issues. Rethinking the way we do things, so we can use each other's knowledge to be more efficient, more farsighted and better prepared for the varied needs of our world.

Having written all this, I must also acknowledge that there are certain very real risks and barriers, which need to be overcome, if and when we are to succeed in fulfilling the ambitious goals of the UN's. Just in the water business, I see a few:

It is extremely difficult to transfer innovative and advanced solutions from one corner of the world to another, because circumstances change. Scaling up and replicating what works in one place in another reality, especially in the developing world, is difficult. But we need these massive scale ups, if we are to succeed.

There are financial concerns too. If we are to meet the 2030 goals of water to all, we need to spend somewhere between 2 and 3 billion US dollars annually - in rough numbers. A lot of money to be found and invested, but also something which leads to another interesting question, how are we using the money? How can we make sure that procurement policies are aligned across borders, making possibilities equal for inhabitants while also securing highest possible value for the money spent?

We need to rethink the way we use, say, aid money. Today, certain societies are almost fully dependable on aid for funding their water supply. If we do not introduce a sustainable business model around this, we risk that the source of money and water will dry out as demand rises. And we will have to keep looking at an alarming problem. The fact that all too often, aid funded projects dry out, when aid stops. We simply need to look for sustainable business models concerning this. For instance by putting a cost on water. This can secure a sense of ownership of water systems. It also gives water utilities a consistent cash-flow for operation and maintenance costs, as well as technical training for employees and availability of spare parts to minimize disruption in water supply.

There is no magic recipe for achieving our goals. No solutions will come by itself. But it can be done.

From my own backyard, I have fresh examples of cases, where what started as aid developed into trade. In a partnership with American NGO World Vision, we actually managed to build a business around our water solutions. Here, what started as donations of pumps became legitimate business. A somewhat similar situation arose in a cooperation with Nairobi Water. Pilot projects exploring solutions to a certain need turned into business relationships. With more parties than just Grundfos and the water utility, but thanks to the special payment methods securing transparency, something which can also benefit consumers.

Partnerships are important for our future success. We all need to join forces, if we are to make this a success. We need collaborate across businesses, NGO's and states, and we need to pull in the same direction. We need to share and apply the knowledge, we've got and collectively make sure that in this equation, 2 plus 2 can equal 5.