Communicating the water crisis: breaking the loo taboo14 November 2014

Sarah Nicholas

Last week saw the Economist Events’ inaugural World Water Summit, convening leading authorities on water management, governance and policy, sanitation, international development and innovation. Staffing the press desk for the Summit, we had a busy day securing no fewer than 34 interviews between speakers and media, and listening with interest to the discussions bouncing between keynotes, panellists and an expert audience.

An interesting theme raised by several speakers was the need to end the ‘stand-off’ on communicating the issues around the water crisis, whether this is companies talking to their investors, shareholders asking pertinent questions, or governments and NGOs campaigning to change toilet habits around the developing world. With the first UN World Toilet Day being celebrated next week, the stalemate is thawing around the ‘loo taboo’, with speakers from agribusinesses such as Syngenta, environment ministers from around the world and non-profit organisations such as WaterAid and the Gates Foundation pursuing ‘faecal sludge management’ systems as innovative solutions to expensive sewerage infrastructure. News that only about 35% of government-built toilets in India are used shows that infrastructure and innovation must be combined with a sustained communications campaign to change aspirations and behaviours.

In the financial community too, people are beginning to speak up about water and why it matters for investors. The Prince’s Accounting for Sustainability Project is tasking investors, accountants and businesses to ‘measure what matters’ and consider natural capital as well as the more visible bottom line. Meanwhile, Ecolab is helping businesses to translate the risks and rewards of water management into hard figures and actionable information through the Water Risk Monetizer, launched at the Summit. Never has the time been more ripe to start talking about the real impact of water and sanitation.

Read more in this selection of coverage from the Summit:

The Telegraph – Geoffrey Lean column

BBC World Service – Business Daily ‘Worldwide Water Crisis?’ podcast

Huffington Post – welcome address by HRH The Prince of Wales

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Farming First – Key themes for Agriculture

Search #WaterSummit and @EconomistEvents for more lively debate