Water security is a national security issue

Water security is a national security issue

Maha Al Qattan, Group Chief Sustainability Officer | Maha AlQatta - Group Chief Sustainability Officer

Water scarcity is a critical concern on the sustainability agenda. Only one percent of the earth’s surface water is accessible drinking water - and one in 10 people struggle to access it.

Water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) has direct impact on education, gender equality, and economic prosperity. From India to Africa and beyond, girls and young women are burdened with retrieving water for their families, which prevents them from pursuing education. A lack of water hygiene also has negative health implications, a major issue in developing countries.

The time has come to accelerate solutions to the factors threatening the water supply. If we do not act, economies and communities will be left to try to cope with the consequences.

WASH is also at the forefront of climate change, as climate change is escalating the water crisis everywhere - with increased flooding making efforts to improve WASH standards harder than ever. These problems also impact important trade routes, restrict economic growth, and prevent supplies from reaching those most in need. Water levels are also changing the world as we know it, causing new tensions for governments to contend with.

As a voice from a company enabling global trade, I know how vital it is to ensure water security – not just to protect the waterways that act as transport routes - but to protect the health of the people in our communities. As more and more businesses are interlinked with water, there is more need than ever for us to be actively participating in solving WASH issues.

Water and national security are intrinsically linked. Here are three reasons why we must accept this and how we can take action to empower communities - not destroy them:

1. Food shortages

A consequence of the water crisis is food shortages – and the challenges in South Sudan is a clear example of this. Three years of flooding have made vast amounts of agricultural land unusable, leaving the country facing its highest food insecurity since 2011. This unsanitary floodwater also affects freshwater resources and has serious health repercussions.

South Sudan is not the only country affected by food shortages. It joins the world’s poorest nations in this struggle. All of them need equitable economic development to futureproof themselves and be able to invest in the health and growth of their people.

If we are united in our desire that fairer economic distribution can help these nations, we must work together to combat climate change and take collective control of the world’s water.

2. Migration

Water security threatens human life and people across geographies. As communities escape floods and droughts, they often have no choice but to cross borders to safer ground. This destabilises regions and the balance of essential resources.

The World Bank’s Groundswell report projects that climate change-related disasters, such as floods and droughts, could cause up to 216 million people to move within or out of their countries by 2050. Pakistan’s floods this year awakened us to the realities of this, displacing millions of people and leaving them without homes.

Climate-intensified events like this will keep happening – and if we don’t respond strategically, we risk disabling countries further and leaving them without the resources to protect themselves.

3. International tensions

The other consequence of water’s power to displace communities is how it can increase international tensions.

In a world of growing geopolitical tensions, economies experience added pressure on precious natural resources. And as water scarcity forces people to seek resources elsewhere, they risk being exploited or harmed as countries react to increased flows of migration.

Most often, the highest rates of conflict over water are in areas exposed to extreme weather, which will only increase as the climate crisis continues.

So, how do we ensure greater water security and protect the security of nations?

The private sector has incredible influence when it comes to water security. DP World, for example, is invested in protecting the world’s water – but it also has a responsibility, as it enables world trade and global business, to protect the communities it serves.

We, along with other business leaders, can change how we conduct business to better serve the areas in which we operate. I am committed to doing all I can to ensure that sustainable practices guide more of our business decisions so we can have a more positive impact.

We must act now to fix these issues before they worsen. Water security is not just a conversation for sustainability executives or public officials - but a topic that requires the attention of CEOs and policymakers to ensure the security of nations worldwide.