Investors observe World Water Day 2012 with focus on land grabs
Sustainability Investment News | March 22, 2012

Investors observe World Water Day 2012 with focus on land grabs

by Robert Kropp

The focus of this year's World Water Day is on water and food security, and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility launches a campaign to educate institutional investors on the impacts of large acquisitions of farmland in the global South. -- Today is World Water Day 2012. The event, which has been observed annually since 1993, seeks to raise awareness globally of the importance of freshwater supply, and advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.

According to UN-Water, established as an information source on water management in 2003, each World Water Day focuses on a specific theme. Last year, the theme was Water for Cities, the objective of which "was to focus international attention on the impact of rapid urban population growth, industrialization and uncertainties caused by climate change, conflicts and natural disasters on urban water systems."

This year, the theme of World Water Day is Water and Food Security. The world's population is expected to grow to nine billion people by 2050, and with freshwater resources being depleted more quickly than they are replenished, unsustainable water use threatens to increase. A major source of water depletion is food production, and UN-Water recommends more sustainable diets, the consumption of less water-intensive food products, and reduction of food waste as steps toward improved sustainability.

Members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) are observing World Water Day 2012 by launching the A Land Grab is a Water Grab campaign, to help educate institutional investors and others about the impacts on food and water security of the acquisition of large areas of farmland. Particularly in Africa, ICCR reports, minimal purchase or long-term lease terms have led to land acquisitions in the global South as objects of speculation.

Other factors driving land grabs, according to ICCR, include increased demand for biofuels and raw materials, industrial development, and tourism.

ICCR's campaign advises institutional investors to ensure that their investment decisions "embed basic human rights, ecological limits and soil protection as proactive elements." The campaign references the Large-scale land acquisitions and leases report, submitted in 2009 by the UN's Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

"Impact assessments should be conducted prior to the completion of the negotiations, in order to highlight the consequences of the investment on the enjoyment of the right to food," the report states. "Only through such impact assessments, which should include a participatory dimension, can it be ensured that the contracts providing for the lease or sale of land will distribute their benefits equitably between the local communities, the host State, and the investor."

In January, ICCR published a Statement of Principles on water. "Presently agricultural and industrial water use account for 70 and 22 percent of total water use respectively," the Statement reports. "Corporations must implement sustainable water stewardship policies that are both environmentally and socially sustainable and that respect the universal human right to water."

The Statement recommends that investors engage with corporations to ensure that a human right to water policy is in place; that companies report on water use, both in their own operations and in those of their supply chains; and that they "return water to the watershed from which it was abstracted in environmentally safe and usable condition."
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