Water for Industrial Progress: UN Report 2024 Highlights

The Valleys Cliffs reflect in the water of Yosemite

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by | Mar 22, 2024

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World Water Day provides a crucial reminder of water’s monumental role in sustaining industries and promoting economic growth. The United Nations World Water Development Report 2024 underscores this connection, providing in-depth insights into how water management and industrial practices shape each other. This article summarizes the key findings from Chapter 4, focusing on trends, challenges, and innovative solutions in water usage within the industrial sector.

Industrial Water Use and Challenges

Corporate supply chains are estimated to be responsible for roughly two-thirds of global water use, contributing to 70% of freshwater pollution. The worst offenders are mining, manufacturing, energy, food, textiles, chemicals and pharmaceuticals. While revealing a nuanced water usage landscape with a trend toward reduced water withdrawals, the operational risks associated with water sourcing and supply chains remain significant. Energy production initiatives alone account for approximately 10% of global water usage.

Companies heavily dependent on water, particularly smaller firms in developing countries, face substantial declines in sales and employment during urban water service disruptions. The economic impact of “dry shocks” substantially outweighs that of “wet shocks,” with companies experiencing significant sales losses during water outages, underlining the critical nature of reliable water services.

Water Quality and Pollution

Economic growth can suffer considerably due to industrial pollution, with the mining and metals industry and the information technology sector identified as key contributors to metal pollution in water bodies. The textile industry also emerges as a major water polluter, mainly through dyeing processes. These pollutants harm ecosystems and pose serious health risks. The report stresses the importance of decoupling water use from industrial production to mitigate these impacts and enhance water quality for broader community benefit.

Innovative Solutions for Sustainable Water Use

Industries are adopting advanced technologies and practices to address water scarcity and pollution challenges. Techniques for water reuse and recycling, such as closed-loop systems and wastewater treatment, are highlighted for their potential to reduce water consumption significantly. The emergence of eco-industrial parks (EIPs) exemplifies how industries can collaborate to achieve water efficiency and sustainability, showcasing the cascading use of water and integrated wastewater management. One outstanding example shared is Kalundborg Symbiosis in Denmark, an EIP operation in circular production for 50 years.

Industry 4.0 technologies, including the Internet of Things (IoT), are emphasized in optimizing water management and reducing waste. Other approaches include adopting water-smart management techniques, such as zero water withdrawal and zero liquid discharge practices, to minimize industrial water footprints.

Policy, Regulation, and Corporate Responsibility

Policies, regulations, and corporate governance also influence effective water management in industry. The report points out that bribery for water connections is prevalent in regions with poor water governance, but it does not improve water service reliability. Adopting legal frameworks and guidelines is crucial in encouraging industries to adopt sustainable water practices.

Towards a Sustainable Future

The UN World Water Development Report 2024 calls for a collective effort from industry, government, and society to address the challenges of water scarcity and pollution. By leveraging technological innovation, embracing sustainable practices, and fostering collaborative governance, industries can contribute significantly to water conservation and environmental protection. This collaborative approach ensures the sustainable use of water resources and supports the global pursuit of prosperity and peace through responsible water management.

The full text of the United Nations World Water Development Report 2024 offers a comprehensive exploration of these themes and more, providing a valuable resource for stakeholders across the industrial and environmental sectors seeking to enhance water sustainability in their operations.

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