Water Innovation and Investment for a Sustainable Future

by | Apr 12, 2011

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According to the World Health Organization, nearly a billion individuals worldwide currently do not have access to safe water and close to 3.6 million people die each year from water-related causes. While staggering, these totals do not account for the additional contamination that takes place through transport and inadequate storage conditions, or the impact that the rapid urbanization taking place in developing countries will have on already stressed water supplies.

The Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC) and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) convened business leaders and NGOs at its Water and Sanitation Solutions forum to discuss innovations and solutions in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector. At this event, ITT and Water For People had the opportunity to participate in a panel to explore how organizations can work together to build strategies—whether through the development of new technologies or financial investments to support new initiatives—to improve access to safe water and help address the global water crisis.


Partnerships are the key to success. Corporations with the resources to fund and develop new technologies must find NGO allies, committed to finding innovative solutions to the global water challenge. Through private-nonprofit partnerships, we can go beyond philanthropy and work together to strengthen and amplify the reach of existing programs.

Through ITT’s signature philanthropy program, ITT Watermark, ITT supports the development of new local infrastructure to bring water and sanitation to schools, provide resources to repair existing systems, and assist in the creation of innovative hygiene education initiatives.

Sustainable Impact

While immediate solutions to the global water crisis are vital, the short-term cannot be our only focus. We must work to find new technologies and solutions that will not only alleviate the problems faced by global communities today, but will also ensure sustained results. Providing immediate relief to those who lack fresh water–whether it be by providing the pumps that bring clean water from a distant source or tanks that store rain water—is just the first step.

The focus and approach to combating the global water crisis must shift from charity-based to that of transformative change. Future success in combating the world’s water crisis cannot merely be measured by the number of people we serve in a given year, but by the number of projects that are fully functional and self-sufficient in years to come. We need to find ways to address the huge gap between philanthropy and aid. We believe that an efficient and successful way to do this is to engage local people and help them help themselves.

Innovation and Investment for Growing Needs, Growing Populations

The World Water Council states that urban populations are expected to rise 40 to 50 percent in the coming decades. With that growth, the United Nations estimates that by 2025, more than 2.8 billion people in 48 countries will lack access to safe drinking water. Now, more than ever, we must invest in the development of technologies that can be adapted to meet increased demand for access to a consistent supply of clean water. Water For People recently launched a data collection platform called Field Level Operations Watch (FLOW), that uses mobile phones and GPS to monitor how well water points and sanitation points in the developing world are functioning. The data and analysis from FLOW are meant to help domestic governments, NGOs and UN agencies provide and maintain sustainable sources of water. FLOW is just one example of the need to go beyond surface measurements to not only track the initial reach of programming but to prove the work is sustainable.

The private sector and nonprofit organizations need to continue working together in ever bigger networks and with increased specialization to find solutions to the global water, hygiene and sanitation challenge that can be brought to scale. Investment and innovation in water stewardship is the key and there are vast opportunities for business in both.

Bjorn von Euler is the director of corporate philanthropy for ITT Corp. He is a regular columnist writing on water issues for Environmental Leader. John Sauer is the assistant director of thought leadership for Water For People. von Euler and Sauer recently participated in BCLC and WBCSD’s Forum on Water and Sanitation.

John Sauer is Assistant Director of Thought Leadership at Water for People. ITT and Water For People are developing sustainable and innovative programs to help meet the alarming needs of the world’s poor, helping move communities toward sustainable change with long-term benefits. We have expanded our scope, shifting from a focus on the number of people served, to educating and empowering communities so that we can create solutions that span both geographies and generations. By providing the education and necessary resources, we can help transform the global water and sanitation crisis into business opportunities, incentivizing communities to take ownership of water points and ensuring sustainable success.

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