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Business tackles water challenge at world conference

3 December 2001 - ICC will lead a delegation of more than 40 business representatives to this week's International Conference on Freshwater in Bonn, seeking to find solutions to one of the most pressing development issues of the new century - the provision of freshwater to a growing world population.

Some of the world's largest water companies - including Vivendi, Suez, Ondeo and Severn Trent - will join water companies from developing world in the ICC-led business delegation.

According to the United Nations, more than 1.2 billion people currently do not have access to safe drinking water.

Furthermore, the UN forecasts world population will grow by 2.5 to 3 billion people by 2050. Ninety percent of this population growth will take place in developing countries and mostly in large urban centres.

"Business as usual will not meet the needs of those currently un-served, let alone as many as two billion new people expected in the world in the next 25 years," said ICC Environment Policy Manager, Jack Whelan.

"Meeting minimum global water needs by 2025 will require a doubling of the present investment to some US$180 billion per year. The challenge is so enormous that governments cannot, and should not, do it alone. They should be looking to develop partnerships with local communities, the private sector and NGOs."

The Freshwater Conference will attract a diverse range of participants - from environment ministers to business and NGO lobby groups.

In an introductory speech to the conference from the business delegation, Unilever's Anne Weir will underline private sector willingness to pay for access to water.

"Broadly speaking, business is willing and able to pay an appropriate price for water to ensure availability," she writes in her speech. "Business also recognises its own responsibility to systematically reduce its use of water and minimise the impact of its operations on water quality."

The business delegation will also argue that the challenge lies not only in the level of investment needed to ensure unviersal access to water, but also in the management of utilities, including setting appropriate tariffs to cover both capital and operational costs.

As Alain Mathys from French water company Ondeo writes in a prepared text for presentation at the conference: "We share the view that public-private partnerships are a very good way to renew water infrastructure, to lever new sources of finance and apply more efficient management methods."

The role of technology will also be examined by the conference participants.

As Anne Weir writes in her speech: "Business investment in technology and product innovation provides increasing scope to reduce rates of water consumption, minimise impact on water quality and foster water re-use."

Further information:

World Business Council for Sustainable Development International Chamber of Commerce