Although his life ended more than one hundred years ago, American humorist Mark Twain’s quote, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over,” appears to be prophetic. Consider that there are 276 international river basins and the United Nations has defined nearly 300 trans-boundary aquifers. Water sources for 800 million people living in 39 countries originate beyond their national borders. And more than a dozen nations receive the majority of their drinking water from rivers that cross borders of neighboring countries that they consider to be hostile.

faucet-1684902_1280Add to this equation an expanding need for clean water created by the unrelenting population growth and global urbanization and what you’re left with is a recipe for disaster. These situations make it all the more vital that we protect and conserve this life-giving resource. Proper stewardship is the responsibility of everyone, including businesses. Industry accounts for 22% of the world’s water use and continues to grow rapidly. Industrial pollution of waterways grows along with it and is well documented. Mountaintop removal coal mining buries or contaminates streams; hydraulic fracturing for natural gas has allowed toxic chemicals to seep into water supplies; and large scale meat processing farms create feces-infused runoff into local waterways.

Government’s role must include a process that ensures equitable access of clean water to everyone, including those across borders. The demand for freshwater doubles every twenty years—twice as fast as population growth. As demand grows, the potential for conflict increases. Strong policies adopted internationally, along with conservation efforts, will go a long way in preventing the dire predictions of future “Water Wars.”

ICCR’s Working Group on Water has published a Statement of Principles that apply to all. They are:

  • Water is sacred. It belongs to the Earth and to all life that inhabits our blue planet.
  • It is imperative that the Earth’s freshwater be protected and conserved.
  • Everyone has the right to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible, and affordable water for personal and domestic use.
  • It is everyone’s duty to use water sparingly and with great care so that all living things may share in this sacred resource.
  • Governments, companies, and other institutions must promote sustainable water stewardship to meet the needs of the world today and to allow future generations to meet their needs.

Tom McCaney
Associate Director
Corporate Social Responsibility
The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia