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Making the Case for Investing in Water, Sanitation & Hygiene

Ruth Romer is Private Sector Advisor, WaterAid UK

Making the Case for Investing in Water, Sanitation & Hygiene

Credit: Abir Abdullah/WaterAid

LONDON, Aug 27 2018 (IPS) - Tea picker Bina, 45 from Sylhet, Bangladesh, used to walk for an hour each day to collect water from a well, also using water from a nearby stream, which was contaminated. Bina and her children were often sick as a result; leading to missed work and a loss of income.

WaterAid worked with the owner of the tea estate to introduce clean water and toilets in the tea gardens and surrounding areas. The new pumps and latrines have transformed Bina’s life, and have benefitted the estate too. A tea garden manager said: “Waterborne diseases have reduced so we pay fewer sick days. Efficiency has increased.”

It is clear that access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) increases productivity and results in economic benefits. There are fewer illnesses and deaths due to diarrhoeal disease, time benefits as staff seek less healthcare, and greater productivity.

In macro-economic terms, it is estimated that every dollar invested in sanitation returns US$5.5 in benefits and every dollar invested in drinking water supply returns US$2. Yet 844 million of people still don’t have access to this vital resource.
In macro-economic terms, it is estimated that every dollar invested in sanitation returns US$5.5 in benefits and every dollar invested in drinking water supply returns US$2. Yet 844 million of people still don’t have access to this vital resource.

Business must be part of the solution to the global WASH crisis; no one organisation or sector will be able to tackle it alone.

The global challenge and the role of business

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 is clean water and sanitation for all by 2030, and currently, the world is on course to fail to reach this. Good governance and partnerships are vital for progress.

Globalised operations and supply chains mean businesses are often operating where the lack of access to WASH is most serious. In a report released by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, water is posed as both a risk and an opportunity for businesses. And while it commends the 47 companies that have committed to providing access to clean water, safe sanitation and hygiene to their employees, it calls on more to get on board.

Some companies are starting to recognise there are business benefits from investing in WASH, which go beyond the moral commitments of companies to invest and contribute to the human rights, health and safety of workers like Bina in the tea gardens.

Making the business case for WASH

However, one key problem is there is not enough company-level data to build a compelling case for business action on WASH. There is a growing body of positive case studies, but the evidence remains largely anecdotal and unquantified. To drive action at the speed required to reach everyone everywhere by 2030, the sector needs more robust evidence showing the financial value.

In response, WaterAid has launched a new guide, which has been championed by Diageo, Gap Inc. and Unilever, and endorsed by the initiative WASH4Work. The guide will help companies provide evidence of the benefits and financial value, or return on investment, of their WASH programmes, and make the case for greater investment in it within the company and beyond. It provides an opportunity for progressive companies to lead and showcase the incentives for business investment on these basic facilities whilst catalysing action.

It also responds to the growing need for the evidence that improving access to clean water, good sanitation and hygiene should be more than a philanthropic measure or means to tick a corporate social responsibility box; it should be a core business priority.

Diageo, Gap Inc., Unilever and HSBC are already leading the charge and investing in WASH. Diageo is rolling out the guide in Ethiopia, HSBC in India and Bangladesh. Gap Inc. is exploring current opportunities to test the guide in its supply chain as is Unilever.

The new guide launched at World Water Week in Stockholm this August and calls for companies to use the guide – test it, learn from it and share your results with us. We will be developing a community of learning via WASH4Work and we will plan to compile the data and share a consolidated business case in due course.

For real change to be made, more companies need to scale up their WASH investments in the workplace, communities and in supply chains.  Sustainability is no longer a fringe ‘green’ issue.

It has moved from the corporate margins into the mainstream, and it’s time for SDG thinking to be absorbed into business-as-usual. As far as citizens are concerned, waiting isn’t an option – nor is leaving SDGs for others to achieve.

 
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