Water is a precious shared resource with high social, cultural, environmental and economic value. It is a basic human right and fundamental for healthy functioning ecosystems. But freshwater resources are finite and under pressure from industrialisation, urbanisation and the demands of a growing global population. Some experts predict that global demand for water will exceed supply by 40 per cent by 2030. Already as many as 660 million people are without access to an improved water source and 2.4 billion people are without access to an improved sanitation facility.
This is a crisis that cannot be solved by any one party acting alone: effective water solutions require collaboration between governments, civil society, communities and the private sector. The mining and metals industry, as a significant water user, has an important role to play in the sustainable management of water resources in the locations where companies are active.
In support of this, ICMM has developed a water stewardship framework – with practical guidance – that adopts a catchment-based approach to water management. ICMM’s water stewardship framework provides high-level further guidance on the four key elements of responsible water management:
- proactive and inclusive engagement with other water users to understand their needs and priorities, share plans and collaborate on managing risks
- transparent public reporting on water usage, material water risks and performance
- collaborating with other water users to mitigate shared water risks and support equitable access
- increasing efficiencies in the use of water (eg by maximising water recycling and reuse within mining operations)
Overall, this approach seeks to develop a holistic understanding of the needs, concerns and priorities of all water users across an entire catchment. It requires a diverse range of hydrological processes to be considered, as well as broader political, economic, social and ecological dynamics that influence water availability and quality. And it encourages an inclusive understanding of how competing demands on water resources (from domestic water consumption, industry and the environment) can create insecurities that can lead to conflict if not appropriately managed.
Despite the current crisis, there is enough water to meet the world’s growing needs if there’s a dramatic step-change in the way water is used, managed and shared on a global scale. Through the effective management of water at the site level and by collaborating with other stakeholders within the broader catchment the mining and metals industry can help catalyse a shift towards the responsible management of shared and precious water resources.