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WaterWater security key to unlocking African prosperity

Published 5 June 2015

There is mounting evidence of the risks posed by water scarcity to business and economic growth. A 2012 projection by the International Food Policy Research Institute says 45 percent of total GDP — $63 trillion — will be at risk due to water stress by 2050. With coordinated action, better water provision in Africa will strengthen economic growth and unlock the path to prosperity for millions, according to SABMiller’s Chief Executive Alan Clark.

With coordinated action, better water provision in Africa will strengthen economic growth and unlock the path to prosperity for millions, according to SABMiller’s Chief Executive Alan Clark.

Speaking today at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa in Cape Town, Clark highlighted that water security and resource efficiency have become and will remain a priority for SABMiller in Africa as climate change exacerbates competition for resources. This year’s WEF Global Risks Report ranked water scarcity as the biggest single risk to societies and economies.

While growing production volumes, SABMiller has cut its global carbon emissions by 35 percent since 2008, reducing absolute emissions by nearly one million tons. Over the same period it cut water use per liter of beer by 28 percent, now using 3.3 liters of water to make one liter of beer, exceeding its 2015 target. In the last year alone, the company reduced its water use by twenty-nine million hectoliters — the equivalent to the water used by over 116,000 Africans each year. 

SAB Miller says that this has translated into tangible gains for the company — SABMiller saved $117million in the last financial year compared with 2010 through water and energy related initiatives as a key part of its overall cost reduction plans.

Leading a panel discussion on the Future of Water, Alan Clark said:

“The business case for conserving water both within our own operations and in the communities where we work is clear and compelling. Companies from all sectors are facing up to the risks that water scarcity poses to their business — even more so with the impact of climate change. Now is the time to step up and make clear commitments to reduce overall water use and improve efficiency.”

He also stressed that companies need to look beyond their operations if they want to effect real change:

“There has been progress on water in Africa but it is neither universal, nor consistent. Hundreds of millions of people in Africa, especially in rural and poor households, lack access to safe drinking water. Tackling water scarcity can release untapped prosperity at every level — not just for business, but for communities, societies and national economies. Yet businesses are still too focused on their own operations – only by working with local partners and communities will they bring about real change.”

SABMiller says that in providing both financial and operational support, it  is a leading contributor to the Strategic Water Partners Network, a partnership between the South African government and private sector. It aims to close the gap between water supply and demand, which is forecast to reach 17 percent by 2030. Through more efficient water use, reduced leaks and improved water management, the network will work to close this gap.

Clark pointed to mounting evidence of the risks posed by water scarcity to business and economic growth, quoting a 2012 projection by the International Food Policy Research Institute that 45 percent of total GDP — $63 trillion — will be at risk due to water stress by 2050.