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World Water Day: CSR interventions in India

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CSR in water
 
It is World Water Day today. Whoever you are, wherever you are, water is your human right. Access to water underpins public health and is therefore critical to sustainable development and a stable and prosperous world. We cannot move forward as a global society while so many people are living without safe water.
The theme for World Water Day 2019 is ‘Leaving no one behind’. This is an adaptation of the central promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: as sustainable development progresses, everyone must benefit.
With the passage of the CSR rules in the Companies Act, 2013, there has been greater corporate participation in water. Says the Samhita report Making the Case for Corporate Action in Water. With institutions like foundations invested in building an enabling ecosystem and companies leveraging their expertise to develop impactful solutions, the time is opportune for collaborative action across the water value chain.

Collective Impact Action in Water

The CEO Mandate for Water in India is working with Gap Inc., Levi Strauss & Co, and PVH Corp., among other companies, on a collective action project around water stewardship in a river basin where the companies operate and source water from. Launched in 2018, the initiative’s activities are currently centred around a subset of the Cauvery River Basin, the Noyyal and Bhavani sub-basins and will pilot test the context-based water targets methodology.

India Water Tool

Developed from a joint effort of the India Water Tool Working Group 2.1, which consists of 13 companies including as ITC, BASF, Ambuja Cement and Mahindra, the India Water Tool (IWT) is an easy-touse, online tool for companies and other users to understand their water-related risks and prioritize action toward sustainable water management. It combines data from Indian government agencies and water stress indicators from the World Resources Institute and Columbia Water Centre.
It brings together 14 datasets and risk indicators to help users understand their Water risks in India. IWT could be used to understand the extent to which an area is water stressed, and to plan interventions accordingly. For CSR, this tool could prove to be useful when companies are identifying geographies to work in.

What role can Indian companies play?

For companies to effectively navigate the water crisis, they will have to develop holistic strategies that address all aspects of their involvement with water. In other words, companies will have to adopt the principles of responsible citizenship, where they understand the complexities of their role and the interconnectedness of impact in the water sector, and work towards creating shared value for themselves and society.
“India is facing the worst water crisis in history. There is a dire need to explore solutions to mitigate growing water scarcity in India. At VA Tech WABAG, it has been our constant endeavour to implement innovative methods and use advanced water technologies to fulfil everyday water needs of millions of people. Today, initiatives to increase the groundwater levels, focus on desalination, recycling and wastewater treatment are some of the critical ways to address water crisis in the country,” says Rajneesh Chopra, Global Head – Business Development, VA Tech WABAG Limited.
Through these initiatives, in nine decades, VA Tech WABAG has created water treatment infrastructure to produce over 17,000 million litres of safe drinking water and wastewater treatment infrastructure to purify over 20,000 million litres of wastewater, every day. Being one of the top 10 desalination players globally, they have executed desalination facilities to produce over 300 million litres of high quality water for daily consumption.
Responsible citizenship implies responsibility, transparency and accountability over a common natural resource to the other stakeholders in the society. Through CSR interventions, companies build stronger relationships with the communities they operate in, align themselves to the nation building agenda and fulfil compliance requirements.
Says Parag Agarwal, Founder and CMD, Janajal, “The need to create a suitable legislative framework and work in a focussed manner to build a shared water economy is acute. The safe drinking water needs of the nation can only be met in a timely manner by harnessing existing water treatment plants and infrastructure by connecting them to a unified technology platform for remote management and supervision. Water ATMs bear immense potential to bridge the gap between demand and supply and there should be high emphasis on their implementation under a services approach that includes the most essential operations and maintenance capability.”

Overall CSR support and spend on water

An analysis of NIFTY 50 companies’ annual reports show that a majority of the companies had CSR programmes in water in 2017-2018. The median CSR spend per company on water was around INR 6.7 crore, with water spends accounting for an average of 12% of total CSR spend, according to the report ‘Making the Case for Corporate Action in Water’ by Samhita.
The higher likelihood of manufacturing, oil and gas, metals and minerals companies to support CSR programmes in water can be explained through their large regional footprint – plants and factories with communities as critical stakeholders. Having access to in-house engineering resources provides confidence in undertaking projects that require infrastructure inputs such as building check dams, anicuts etc.
It is also encouraging to see significant contribution from the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) industry, where many companies reported using CSR in water as a means to not only create social impact, but also use it as a research and intelligence gathering exercise to understand the market from a business investment perspective.
Most companies see water as an impact multiplier – important in itself as a standalone investment but also for its role in making investments in other cause areas more effective, such as agricultural livelihoods, biodiversity conservation and health challenges.