Limited access to water, sanitation pose other challenges

The United Nations logo displayed on a door at U.N. headquarters in New York [Photo courtesy/Reuters]
When the United Nations launched the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, the objective was to introduce a set of goals that would meet the pressing environmental, political and economic challenges, and through the implementation of these goals, eradicate poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change.

Most importantly, the SDGs placed us on the path towards more sustainable communities and businesses. By embracing sustainability, we are able to meet our needs without compromising the ability for future generations to meet their needs too.

Prioritising sustainability means it becomes part of every process, and this in turn means that businesses must put it at the core of their operations.

By developing strategies that create value for all stakeholders, including employees, shareholders, suppliers, the community and the planet, sustainable businesses have the power to redefine the corporate ecosystem.

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Certainly, a thriving business is one that is committed to addressing some of the challenges that the world is facing. As business leaders, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to lead on sustainability by making the deliberate choices to factor it into our business practices.

We have to continue investing in our people through sustainable social and economic projects that will have a long-lasting impact on the society as well as help in the fight against inequality.

As we mark World Water Day this week, it is an opportunity for us to drive the sustainability agenda by drumming up support for SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation. Water is not only an essential basic commodity for communities countrywide; it is a crucial resource for businesses.

Water rationing

It is unfortunate that although access to water, sanitation and hygiene is a human right, millions of people still have to go without or struggle to get these basic services.

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Research conducted by WHO indicates that water scarcity affects 1 in 3 people in the African Region, and is getting worse with population growth and urbanisation. In Kenya, 41 per cent of citizens still rely on unimproved water sources, such as ponds, shallow wells and rivers, reports Water.org.

Water scarcity continues to cause inter-community feuds and human-wildlife conflict in some parts of the country while in the urban areas, water rationing is a menace urban dwellers have to contend with.  

Limited access to water, sanitation and hygiene also pose other challenges that lead to further decline in quality of life such as water-borne diseases. WHO estimates that in 2016, inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene were responsible for 829,000 annual deaths from diarrhea, and 1.9 per cent of the global burden of disease. 

Although 90 per cent of the world’s population currently has access to improved sources of drinking water, the UN estimates that in the future, billions of people will face the risk of chronic water shortage due to climate change and pollution.

Climate change is no longer just a tale; we are witnessing its effects every day. Due to extreme and unpredictable weather patterns, the country is facing food insecurity and water scarcity that has resulted in extreme famine in some parts of the country, with the most recent examples being Turkana and Baringo Counties.

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Conservation initiatives

This calls for urgent and accelerated action and effective interventions to ensure that no one is left behind.

Increasing water efficiency and improving water management is critical to balancing the competing and growing water demands from various sectors and users.

We must change this narrative. It is essential that we revisit our commitment to SDG 6 and measure our success as well as identify more innovative ways of achieving our targets and ensuring access to safe water sources and sanitation for all.

Businesses also need to understand that environmental and business objectives are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the two can work together for a win-win situation. Therefore, while we focus on meeting customer needs, making profits and achieving business continuity, we must also pay special attention to our social responsibility.

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We need to focus on preserving our water ecosystems, their biodiversity, and take action on climate change.

Projects in regions

This can be through investing in community water projects in regions where people are still covering tens of kilometers to access this important commodity, as well as supporting conservation initiatives such as tree planting.

In our operations, we also need to invest in systems that ensure efficiency in waste and water management.

Individuals and firms must support various water initiatives across the country for the sake of millions. We have to plant and nurture millions of trees in areas such as Karura Forest, Mt Kenya Forest, and the Ndakaini Dam among others, and strive to ensure water efficiency in our operations.

Firms must also invest heavily in water and waste management systems.

When water is easily accessible, people spend less time and effort, which then translates to more productivity and accelerated economic growth. Better water sources also mean less expenditure on health.

As we work together to turn the tide on climate change, promote economic opportunity for all, and build thriving communities, our aim should be to inspire action. Let us support the global agenda for sustainability and inspire positive change that will transform our world.

Mr Kiniti is the Group Corporate Relations Director at East African Breweries Limited.

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