Water needs to be looked at in totality as a shared resource, says Namita Vikas, Chief Sustainability Officer, YES BANK

By Rusen Kumar

MUMBAI: YES BANK’s most recent knowledge report, ‘Water – the Next Sustainability Frontier’ was released at the India Water Week 2016 by Shashi Shekhar, Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, during the session on strategy to achieve targets under UN sustainable development goals in the water sector. The report, prepared by YES BANK’s Responsible Banking Team undertakes a situational analysis of the existing demand and supply of water in the country and presents ways to redeem the current situation.

In an interview with Rusen Kumar, Editor, India CSR; Namita Vikas, Group President and Chief Sustainability Officer, YES BANK shared her views on need of such report and its relevance to the country. Edited excerpt: 

What are motivating factors for working on such an important issue?

YES BANK has been working on providing clean and safe drinking water since the past two years through its focused CSR program. The solution provided through this program is low cost, chemical free, zero wastage and consumes zero electricity. During the first year of this program in FY 2014-15, it positively impacted 62,500 individuals through successful deployment of household and community water purification systems in rural Maharashtra. To further scale the program, and provide clean and safe drinking water to 2 crore railways passengers and communities, we have partnered with the Indian Railways and notable NGOs.

During the implementation of this program, we realized that water is a much more complex subject than merely providing access, and we had barely scratched the surface. It is important to understand the multi-dimensional aspects attached to water and that every stakeholder has a role to play.

Over-exploitation of water beyond reasonable limits has impacted both the quality and quantity of water. To put this into the present context, certain experts believe the present drought in many parts of the country may also be due to unsustainable practices, which have mainly arisen from over-exploitation, wastage and water pollution.

To give you an example, in India there are 77 million people without access to clean and safe drinking water, however, half of the usable water is wasted through leakages and inefficiencies. There have been surveys indicating businesses too have been severely impacted by water shortages.

Given this scenario, we believe that releasing a Knowledge Report would draw greater focus from all sectors and stakeholders on water related issues.

What is the key objective of the releasing report on water?

We believe that water has multiple dimensions connected to it – business, governance, society, and environment. The Report highlights these dimensions and goes beyond to further explore the risks of inaction, and presents a combination of modern and traditional solutions.

The idea was to come out with a concise report which would touch upon most of these aspects and put water at the centre of the discussion amongst, policy makers, financial institutions and industry, where managing water as a critical resource is essential for collective and responsible growth.

What are the key findings of the Report?

The report does a situational analysis of the existing water scenario in India and presents certain solutions. At present, estimated utilizable water available in India is higher than its demand; however, this scenario does not remain consistent over the year or across Indian geographies. This implies there are certain seasons why there are regions that get more water than they require, while there are others where demand exceeds availability. Moreover, the current per capita water availability levels in India are close to water scarcity levels.

The Report also analyzes the impact of shortage of water, which may even result in conflicts among users, and the impact of climate change and pollution on the water resources.

Based on its analysis, the Report presents a mix of traditional and modern solutions. We believe there may not be a ‘single model’ which could be applied across the country; it has to be a mix of multiple, location, and situation-specific, solutions, and a combination of conventional and modern techniques.

Also readYES BANK Releases Knowledge Report: Water – the Next Sustainability Frontier

Do you think that Government has failed to address the water shortage issues?

Water needs to be looked at in totality as a shared resource, and which has multiple applications with multiple entry and exit points and involving various stakeholders. While it is important for Governments to create favorable and progressive policy frameworks and drive on-ground implementation, achieving water security is not the responsibility of the Government alone. It is important for other stakeholders to play their role as well, that entails individual and collective responsibility. That is precisely the reason why the Report proposes solutions such as integrated water resource management, and water stewardship, where specific stakeholders are not looked at in isolation.

What are the key recommendations of the Report?

The Report puts forward the necessity of looking at water as a “circular resource”, and in totality, from withdrawal, usage, discharge and treatment, to make it useful again. Multiple interventions are needed to be undertaken for effectively managing India’s water resources. This Report proposes three suggestions for effective management of water resources – identifying the true cost of water, effective financing of water related projects, and collective management of water.

Water is a resource which is considered free and has been taken for granted, thus, it becomes important to understand its true cost. The Report includes specific examples of how certain organizations are working in that direction.

When one talks about putting a cost to a resource, one needs finances to cover those costs and allow data backed decision making to manage such a resource. Financing of water infrastructure has been a challenge and the experience of the private sector investment in water related infrastructure has been mixed, leaving water related infrastructure to be a domain for Governments. The Report provides a framework for mobilizing finances for myriad of water infrastructure, by breaking down the different stages of water usage (sourcing, supply, usage and discharge) and looking at various financing options for each stage separately. It also discusses five additional financing models which could be used, as need be, to fund water management related activities.

The Report highlights that a multi-stakeholder approach for integrated water management is imperative to achieving better water governance. The key lies in developing location-specific and scenario based solutions through participatory models. Water stewardship can also be an effective tool for engagement and collaboration.

According to report, by 2050, the water consumption of the industries in the country is also expected to more than double from the current consumption levels. Do you think water related issues can negatively impact the Industrial Growth?

Indian industry is coming to terms with the fact that water, like other resources, is essential to their operations and growth, and that it is not free anymore. There have been ample surveys and correlations that have been drawn between water and its industrial usage. That is why we are seeing businesses adopting techniques to reuse, recycle and reduce their water consumption, and some industry leaders have gone further to attain water neutrality and even water positivity.

Despite Water being key for business sustainability, it is still less discussed in board rooms. Do you think that this Report will lead to take the water related issues in board room?

As I mentioned in my previous response, lack of availability of water is impacting industries, however, in some cases, water is treated as a regulatory aspect rather than a strategic one, for example, regulations around treatment of water before discharge. I am sure this Report would motivate the industry to treat water as a strategic resource, work towards mitigating water related risks, and ensure sustainable consumption. The Report presents select cases of businesses which treat water as a strategic resource, which has also helped them maintain the social license to operate and improve their relations with stakeholders. This has also allowed them to secure their supply chains, creating clear returns from such investments.

Do you think that India has strong policy framework for Water Conservation in the country?

Indian policy framework has strong provisions for usage and prevention of pollution. While there are agencies such as NWDA which monitor water balance and other aspects related to utilization, agencies such as CPCB monitor the pollution related aspects through provision like the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. However, there was felt a need for an agency which could look at the efficiency-related aspects of water as well. I believe this has been the focus of Government, which is why they introduced schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, which not only talks about taking water to all farms, but also increasing the irrigational efficiency. Here, we must note that such policies alone may not be able to bring about the require change, and they must supported by, at the grassroots, by micro-creditor and local NGOs by providing the right finance and creating awareness amongst the farming community. The Prime Minister, himself, has talked about ‘more crop per drop’ which clearly reflects the Government’s intent.

What are the crucial factors playing role in raising the risk of inaction for water?

With the recent draught conditions persisting in many parts of India, we are seeing how water scarcity is affecting us all, and it is even leading to greater conflicts amongst users in some cases. The Report presents statistics that show how, in the recent past, water related conflicts have grown exponentially.

Water unavailability can also negatively impact India’s agricultural productivity, with India already having experienced three bad crops and the fourth may be at risk too. We are also seeing how power generation capacity is declining due to lower water levels in dams, with water supply to industries being curtailed. In fact, according to a recent UN report, three out of four jobs are connected to water, so you can well imagine how water shortage impacting livelihoods.

Experts have pointed out that decreased water availability has been induced by human activities, with climate change and pollution also being key factors, and it is important that such risks be tackled head on by managing both the supply and demand side of water.

According to you, what are the urgent major steps should be taken to address the water problem issue?

Immediately, we need to look at two priorities – one, securing the water supplies without over-exploiting the water resources, and two, improving efficiency of water usage. Securing water supplies would include recharging groundwater resources, rainwater harvesting, and watershed management and, preventing further pollution of water resources, or rather, reducing the existing levels of pollution. With respect to improving water use efficiencies, first and obvious priority would be the agriculture sector and irrigation in particular. There is an immediate need to graduate to more effective irrigational techniques, such as micro-irrigation, which would reduce wastage while improving productivity, thus also providing an opportunity to bring more arable land under irrigation.

About Namita Vikas

Namita Vikas spearheads YES BANK’s Sustainable Development and CSR unit called Responsible Banking. She has instituted the approach of Mainstreaming CSR, sustainability and creating stakeholder value through sustainable development and responsible finance by integrating these principles into core operations of the Bank. Her work involves overall CSR and Sustainability Management, CSR governance and compliance, Research, Triple Bottom-line Accounting, building strategies towards Responsible Finance / Investing and Strategic Philanthropy.

In her current role, she serves as a Board Member of YES FOUNDATION, which was set up in 2012 and guides its overall strategy. She is elected to the Global Steering Committee of United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) and is the Chair of UN Natural Capital Declaration (NCD). Recently she was unanimously elected as the UNEP FI Chairperson for APAC. Besides this, she hold positions with Advisory Boards of Asia Venture Philanthropy Network, Responsible Investment Research Association (RIRA), UNEP-FI Banking Commission, World Resource Institute – India GHG Program, Indian Centre for CSR (ICCSR) and Enactus India. Committed to CSR & sustainability, she is involved with national and international sustainable policy influencing as a member of United Nations Global Compact, TERI, Environment, Innovation, Sustainability Committees of Industry bodies, besides being a Jury on several sustainability Awards like the World Bank’s Development Market Place Initiative for India and Tata Group Innovista Awards. With a well-rounded experience of 26 years in Sustainable Development, Corporate Social Responsibility and policy advocacy, she has successfully held leadership positions with Marico, Microsoft Corporation and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

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Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author and the representative of the organization in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR.