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02 Sep 2014
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New water programme by HSBC tackles depleting water sources

HSBC has announced today (11 June) that it is launching a five-year Water Programme to tackle the global water crisis.

The $100 million (£64.8 million) HSBC Water Programme, in partnership with WWF, WaterAid and Earthwatch, hopes to improve water resource management in 10 key river basins and improve water quality and sanitation to millions of people. The programme will also support the Millenium Development Goal (MDG) ’to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015 compared with 1990 levels’.

This new initiative comes after research commissioned by HSBC, WaterAid, WWF and Earthwatch revealed that economic growth is ‘seriously threatened’ due to severe water scarcity in 10 of the world’s most significant river basins. ‘By 2050, the top 10 river basins by population (9 in 10 are in emerging markets) are forecast to produce a quarter of global GDP (25 per cent), a figure greater than the combined future economies of the US, Japan and Germany’, says the ‘Exploring the links between water and economic growth’ report. It goes on to warn that ‘without any improvement in water resource management, seven of these basins will face unsustainable water consumption, with significant to severe water scarcity’.

It is hoped that HSBC’s Water Programme will bring clean water to millions of people and lower the rates of child mortality from malnutrition caused by diarrhoea from contaminated water sources and increase GDP from increased productivity. Six countries in Asia and Africa, which have 10 of the largest river basins, will receive funding: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana. In five of 10 of these basins, water withdrawals are already above sustainability thresholds.

WWF Chief Executive, David Nussbaum, said: “Recent figures from WWF show that freshwater ecosystems have declined by 70 per cent since 1970 and that, already, 2.7 billion people are living in river basins that experience water shortages at least one month a year – these figures, alongside the research commissioned by HSBC, demonstrate why it is so important for us to take action to protect our freshwater resources now.”

Nussbaum went on to add that the HSBC Water Programme will see WWF work with over 1,000 businesses and over 100,000 fishers and farmers to “promote more efficient use of water in their practices, while working with governments across the globe to advise on better river basin management which will help to secure water supplies for the future needs of both the human population and the environment”.

The Water Programme will also enable NGO Earthwatch to set up research projects in over 20 cities worldwide to address urban water management issues, and according to Barbara Frost, CEO of WaterAid could result in “1.1 million people gaining access to safe water and 1.9 million to improved hygiene and sanitation in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana”.

HSBC Group Chairman Douglas Flint commented: “Today’s findings show that the future of river basins is critical for global economic growth. Rapid, collaborative action worldwide is needed to improve water resource management in river basins. The report also highlights the powerful economic rationale for improving access to freshwater and sanitation, at a time when total aid for water access and sanitation has actually declined. The HSBC Water Programme will benefit communities in need, and enable economies to prosper.”

Aside from the humanitarian benefits, the report suggests that investing in universal access to safe water and sanitation could see an annual economic gain worldwide of $220 billion (£142.5 billion), but securing universal access would require $725 billion (£470 billion), an investment which could see each dollar (£0.65) generate around $5 (£3.3) of economic benefits. The report also estimates that capital investment in some African countries could be repaid in just three years.

The HSBC Water Programme follows on from the five-year HSBC Climate Partnership that, together with The Climate Group, Earthwatch, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and WWF, gave 32 million people access to cleaner water, protected three million hectares of forestland and helped 10 of the world’s biggest cities to cut carbon emission more quickly.

The ‘Exploring the links between water and economic growth’ report is available to read from The Water Hub website.

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