World Water Day highlights the importance of water cooperation


This year, World Water Day will celebrate its 20th anniversary by focusing on water cooperation. This notion, crucial to the sound and sustainable management of water resources, is being endorsed by a wide range of public and private actors, including corporations. Danone cooperates with others on two main water-related issues: the preservation of the resource, and the provision of easier access to healthy water for local populations in the developing world.


We are approaching 22 March, which this year will mark the 20th anniversary of World Water Day, first instituted by the United Nations General Assembly back in 1993. This year’s World Water Day is also special because 2013 has been declared the International Year of Water Cooperation. Events and initiatives dedicated to the topic will be organised all over the world throughout the year, and it is also, quite logically, the theme chosen for this edition of the World Water Day. As the website designed by UNESCO (the event coordinator) explains, cooperation is a key challenge both for the preservation of the resource and to ensure better access to it. “Good management of water is especially challenging due to some of its unique characteristics: it is unevenly distributed in time and space, the hydrological cycle is highly complex and perturbations have multiple effects. Rapid urbanisation, pollution and climate change threaten the resource while demands for water are increasing in order to satisfy the needs of a growing world population […]. Water is a shared resource and its management needs to take into account a wide variety of conflicting interests. This provides opportunities for cooperation among users.” This cooperation should happen at a variety of levels: between states (when they share transboundary rivers and groundwater) and also between regional authorities, local economic actors and the people who depend on the resource for their everyday life and health. This “cooperation chain” is in the spotlight this year as one of the major tools for preserving water as a resource and providing everyone, everywhere on the planet, with easier access to it.

Corporations are part of this chain, and they have their share of responsibility when it comes to efficient and fair water management in the countries where they operate. And it is indispensable for them to achieve economic durability. Danone Waters is no exception. It, along with Danone’s funds, collaborates strongly with other entities and with local people on two key water management issues: firstly, the protection of water resources, and secondly, making access to water easier for local populations.


Co-protecting water resources


First comes the issue of protecting water resources, which is absolutely crucial for a company that sells mineral and spring water and thus depends on a natural and healthy water cycle. The preservation of the water resource, both in terms of quantity and quality, is in fact at the heart of the business. This means first that everything must be done to preserve it from external pollutions and guarantee its natural qualities. Water is a renewable resource but it can be exhausted if we take out more than Nature can renew: it is thus also crucial for companies selling water to reach and maintain a sound balance between business activities and the protection of the resource.

Danone Waters’ brands are co-leading a range of initiatives in water preservation. In France, evian has now been working for twenty years with local farmers and authorities to protect the spring from the impact of agriculture and human activities on the quality of the water. In 1992, all these actors jointly created APIEME, the Association for the Protection of the Impluvium of Evian Mineral Water. As we explained in a previous article, APIEME brings togetherPays de Gavot’s nine villages and the towns that benefit from the presence of the spring close to Lake Geneva. Its raison d’être is to nurture collaborative relationships between these towns, local farmers and evian in order to define, collectively, a commitment to long-term actions that benefit everyone. As Cathy Le Hec, Head of Environmental Protection Policy at the Evian impluvium explains,

working like this on a daily basis with all the local actors facilitates efficient implementation of actions in favour of water protection and the environment, as well as promoting local development with an overall quality objective (quality of agricultural products, quality of life and quality of natural areas).

This joint approach was also chosen because it helps guarantee that all the parties keep progressing and bettering their solutions, together and with everyone’s needs in mind. Improvement is always around the corner, but APIEME has already had some successes, such as the impluvium being classified as a Ramsar wetland zone. (The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar (Iran) in 1971, is an intergovernmental treatywhose member countries undertake to “maintain the ecological character of their wetlands” and to “plan for the ‘wise use’, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories.” Learn more on their website and in our article about Ramsar.)

Another Danone brand, Aqua, operating in Indonesia, has also developed strong co-operation with local actors to preserve the water resource while tackling threats to rural livelihoods. The Klaten project, launched in 2011, “manages the rural ecosystem to maintain economic activity and preserve jobs, manages water, promotes sustainable farming practices and supports local farm cooperatives,” explains the Group’s 2011 report. It also aimed, from the start, at reaching financial autonomy, and thus durability.

Fainta Negoro, Klaten project manager at Danone Aqua, says that the initiative, which has alreadygiven 500 farmers access to micro-credit and created 30 jobs, “has brought high quality partners on board, including experts in agriculture, forest preservation, micro-business and micro-finance.”

These two examples are not unique: Danone has replicated the approach at other springs which supply the group, such as Volvic in France, Villavicencio in Argentina, Bonafont in Mexico and Salus in Uruguay. “All over the world, winning support from civil society has proved to be the best way of preserving local resources,” states the 2011 report.

On a more global scale (and you can also find more information on that in our previous article about Ramsar), Danone adopts a collaborative approach to the preservation of wetlands: back in 1998, the Group’s evian brand signed an agreement with the Ramsar Convention. It was the first time an environmental convention had partnered with the private sector. The agreement led to the creation of the Danone-evian Fund for Water; in 2008, collaboration was reinforced with the creation of the Danone Fund for Nature, which later evolved into the Livelihoods fund. Today, Anada Tiega, General Secretary of the Ramsar Convention, says they are “delighted that evian is associated with our mission, making a contribution to protecting and developing these areas [the wetlands].” This partnership has already facilitated the implementation of “significant actions and projects for the conservation of wetlands,” such as the Water Protection Schools, two organisations set up jointly in Thailand, Nepal and Argentina to provide education on water management.A new programme was launched recently in Japan. Collaboration with Ramsar also takes the form of replanting programs in threatened wetlands: in Senegal, for instance, 10,000 hectares of mangrove have already been replanted. This project, led by the Livelihoods fund, involved 100,000 people from 350 different villages. Similar programmes are in place in Indonesia (in the province of North Sumatra) and in India (in the Araku Valley) in collaboration with the Naandi Foundation.


Co-ensuring better access to water


The other subject via which Danone contributes to “water cooperation” is access to water, in two main ways: for the populations who live around its production sites, and elsewhere in the world through specific initiatives. Setting up a water plant means becoming part of a community: it is in the company’s best interests to collaborate with local peopleto ensure that the new plant does not cause them adverse effects. This is why people are given access to the Group’s springs, in France (Évian) just as in Indonesia. There, some villages are supplied with running water from distribution networks connected to the spring and maintained by the villagers themselves. But it gets more specific than that, and the Danone funds’ projects work as pilot labs to help understand and tackle local challenges. Several social business projects supported by danone.communities thus focus on access to water. In Cambodia, for instance, “1001 Fontaines pour demain » funds installation of treatment units that produce safe drinking water, which is then bottled and distributed to isolated populations,” explains the fund’s website.

The aim is to improve the health of these rural populations, thanks to the cooperation between 1000 fontaines, local teams and danone.communities.

In the field, danone.communities mobilises the expertise of Danone in waters and helps the 1001 fontaines team to train local teams and to operate the fountains, and also to achieve and guarantee sustainability for the facilities.

In Mexico, the El Alberto project seeks to “provide health through water to inhabitants of El Alberto and other indigenous communities in Hidalgo, Mexico,” and also to provide a “sustainable way of life to many indigenous women.” This project brings together different actors: danone.communities, Xóchitl Gálvez (and her foundation, Porvenir), an engineer who has long been working on the development of indigenous populations, and HOD México, Danone’s branch in the country.

Together, they created a social business to give Hidalgo’s rural indigenous communities (130,000 people) access to water, and to create 200 jobs in the community.

Another example takes place in India, where Naandi Community Water Services has tasked itself with providing access by setting up systems in the villages “that deliver safe drinking water for only 0.15 rupees (about three US cents) per litre.” Here again, cooperation is a major lever, with village communities, government authorities, local investors, the Naandi Foundation and danone.communities working hand in hand.

Outside the immediate surroundings of their production sites, some of Danone’s brands also lead their own initiatives. Volvic, for instance, has partnered with UNICEF since 2006 to improve living conditions and provide access to clean drinking water in the Sahel. Through this programme, entitled 1L = 10L, for every litre of Volvic purchased in France, the brand finances 10L of water in the Sahel. Thus far, the programme has supported the creation or rehabilitation and management of 175 wells, along with the construction of latrines in schools and the education of local populations on proper hygiene. As a result, over the first 7 years of this programme, 86,000 Sahelians have benefited from easier access to drinking water and improved living conditions.

These various examples show how Danone contributes to tackle two main issues related to water management: the protection of the resource and easy access to it for local populations. They also highlight the fact that nothing could have been done, or at least not in a way which benefitted everyone, had it not been for this highly cooperative approach. Cooperation is in fact a major tool for building relevant and sustainable social businesses (with Danone’s funds, and more particularly danone.communities), and it also helps such a big company understand as accurately as possible what role it can play, on the ground, to help build beneficial and “peaceful relationships” around water, as the UNESCO puts it.

(Photo from Madagascar by ©Pierrot Men)

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