For the first time, the report by the World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP) has clearly established the interdependency between water and jobs. “Well over one billion jobs, representing more than 40% of the world’s total active workforce, are heavily water-dependent,” said the authors. Eight of the industries that employ the most people around the world require significant water supplies to function: agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy, resource-intensive manufacturing, recycling, construction and transportation.
Other sectors “that do not require access to significant quantities of water resources to carry out most of their activities” also need to be considered in this estimation of the connection between water and jobs, they added. The United Nations thus considers 1.2 billion jobs, or 36% of the world’s total active workforce, to be moderately water-dependent.
In total, three-fourths of jobs worldwide are either heavily or moderately water-dependent. This finding should be taken very seriously, the report tells us, particularly in view of future demographics, the development of countries in the Southern hemisphere, and global warming.
When the Earth is home to more than 9 billion people…
By 2050, the planet’s population is expected to increase from its current 7 billion people to 9.3 billion. According to the report’s authors, this rise will initially exert pressure on our food supply, and also on energy and transportation requirements.
But although meeting those needs is necessary to economic and human development, the global organization warns that available water quantities will decline. And in regions where access to water resources is already difficult or will be exposed to water stress through global warming, the impact on jobs and well-being could be catastrophic.
“Reduced water availability will further intensify competition for water among users, including agriculture, maintenance of ecosystems, human settlements, industry and energy production. This will affect regional water, energy and food security, and potentially geopolitical security, prompting migration at various scales. The potential impacts on economic activity and the job market are real and possibly severe,” the report states.
Sustainable water management: the key to future jobs
Conversely, WWAP notes that investing in infrastructure and improved water management “is investing in jobs” and growth.
For example, it estimates that “[i]n the irrigated agriculture sector, which represents 70% of freshwater withdrawals worldwide, the potential efficiency savings from increased water productivity could be as high as US$115 billion annually by 2030 (at 2011 prices).”
Citing a study by the Pacific Institute, the authors also reiterated the fact that correctly-targeted investments are conducive to the creation of decent jobs: for every million dollars invested, 10 to 15 direct, indirect and induced jobs for new water procurement solutions are created, 5 to 20 in rainwater management, and 10 to 72 for restoration and rehabilitation measures.
However, an increase in investments and the implementation of innovations to save water or obtain it in new ways will not be enough, according to the United Nations.
In this way, the report highlights the importance of governance: “Meeting these societal goals requires coherence and a shared vision, notably between water, energy, food, environmental, social and economic policies, ensuring that incentives are aligned for all stakeholders and that negative impacts are mitigated – for example, by ensuring future employability of those displaced in sectors where employment may fall.”
In short, the choices and investments made in water in the years to come will determine the future of the global job market and our well-being.