Lisette Provencher, Senior Vice President, Operations Support, for United Water and its parent company SUEZ ENVIRONNEMENT NORTH AMERICA, recently authored an op-ed in the March edition of Commerce Magazine, the flagship publication of Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey.
In her op-ed (page 60), Lisette shares her thoughts on clean water as a vital natural resource in communities from New Jersey to New Delhi. Lisette also talks about some of the key local, national and global policies governing water and its impact on citizens globally.
The article is reprinted below for your convenience.
New Jersey businesses don’t have to worry about how they get water and sewer service. Turn on the tap, and out comes the water. Flush the toilet and there it goes. Even with Hurricane Sandy slamming its way ashore last October, most service remained intact.
You may not find that remarkable, and perhaps you shouldn’t. When it comes to water and sanitation, we Americans generally get what we pay for: dependability even in the most harrowing of natural disasters.
Most of the world is not as fortunate. More than 10 percent of the world’s population—780 million—does not have dependable access to water on a calm, sunny day, let alone in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane. And that number, likely an underestimate due to limitations in reporting, is unevenly distributed. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 61 percent of the population has access to so-called “improved” sources of drinking water, compared with more than 90 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. Sanitation is another matter. Forty-seven percent of the world’s population has no access to improved sanitation. Open defecation near public water sources is commonplace in many regions.
While alarming, these snapshots represent tremendous strides since 1990. More than two billion people gained access to improved water sources and 1.8 billion people gained access to improved sanitation facilities between 1990 and 2010, according to the WHO/ UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.
Still, there so much more work to be done. Why? The answers became clear to me when I was teaching civil engineering classes at colleges in Africa and later as director of Aquassistance, the humanitarian arm of United Water parent company SUEZ ENVIRONNMENT: Water and sanitation take fiscal, scientific and human resources. Many places in the developed world lack at least one of these. Most of the least- or less-developed world lack two or three. Creating change requires addressing all three. Sustaining that change requires consensus.
Even then, natural forces can be overwhelming. In Haiti, Aquassistance worked with the government and non-governmental organizations to rebuild the water infrastructure following the 2010 earthquake. But since then, Haiti has suffered cholera outbreaks—3,593 cases of cholera and 29 cholera-related deaths were reported between October 28 and November 8—and further destruction at the hands of Tropical Storm Isaac and Hurricane Sandy. The floods caused by Sandy damaged 30 drinking water systems, affecting 830,000 people. The storm also destroyed 22 cholera treatment units, in addition to the 39 destroyed by Isaac in August. And these figures don’t even include those killed in the floods, the loss of livestock and crops, and the destruction of homes.
Recently, I was elected to the World Water Council, an organization dedicated to improving access to water and sanitation globally. We do that by promoting awareness and building political consensus to trigger action on critical water issues at all levels, from local communities to intergovernmental agencies. It is only through cooperation and consensus that efficient conservation, protection, development, planning, management, and use of water can be sustained to benefit all life on earth.
One topic that arises in consensus building is whether or not water is a fungible commodity, that is, whether water can be freely exchangeable or replaceable for another of like nature or kind, like crude oil or No. 2 Yellow Corn. Some market analysts argue that water is fungible, at least on a regional basis, because prices don’t vary to a great extent. The argument is important. For those of us who believe that access to clean water is a fundamental human right, the idea of labeling water as a fungible commodity is anathema. Besides, pricing for water is a bit trickier than oil or corn, particularly on a global basis. Water prices are vastly different in New Delhi than in New Jersey, and price fluctuations in one won’t have much direct effect on the other. Thus, the idea of water as a fungible commodity doesn’t hold water.
Environmentally, the story is different. Local, national, and global policies are tightly intertwined. Policies made at one level and implemented at another affect everyone and everything along the way. Water usage in Kashmir not only affects health and well-being in Pakistan and India, but global security. Climate change, an anthropogenic phenomenon with local causes and global consequences, is contributing to a rapid decline—20 percent by 2030—in Himalayan snow and ice. That snow and ice provide vast amounts of water for agriculture in Asia, including Kashmir.
Closer to home, the use of the pesticide DDT, banned for use in the United States in 1972, is still used in many parts of the world and can be found in some imported foods and in fish caught in our Great Lakes. Because DDT takes, by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s estimate, 15 years to break down in the environment, it is carried far and wide through the global water ecosystem.
As competition for water increases—not only between countries and bordering states but locally between manufacturing and agriculture, between development and conservation, and between our livelihoods and our lives—our choices will become clearer. So, too, will the impact our water use as New Jersey businesses and residents has on others, and vice-versa.
That’s why participation in such organizations as the World Water Council, which represents some 350 organizations in more than 70 countries, is crucial. It is through the council that we can work to share common solutions and to raise awareness among political leaders for the issues of water and sanitation at every level.
In March 2012, the World Water Council’s Sixth World Water Forum in Marseille gathered representatives from over 145 countries, including 15 heads of states or governments and European Commissioners, 112 ministers, vice-ministers and secretaries of state. There, water-protection solutions collected from all around the world were put on display. They included a point-of-use microbiological water purifier that treats enough drinking water to last a family of five at least three years; new treatment of domestic wastewater that can allow it to be reused in agriculture and construction; financial tools to promote water sustainability; and hundreds of other solutions. They can now be found on the interactive platform www.solutionsforwater.org. What you’ll find there, besides brilliant engineering, is another example of how cooperation can benefit everyone from New Jersey to New Delhi.
Lisette Provencher serves as Senior Vice President, Operations Support for United Water and its parent company SUEZ ENVIRONNEMENT NORTH AMERICA. In this role Provencher oversees all aspects of the company’s operations support group, which includes capital planning, research and innovation, quality management and technical support. She also oversees the sustainable development program and works closely with other departments regarding business development and environmental compliance matters.