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“Water and Jobs”: the UN report shows how water and jobs are inextricably linked


Launched on World Water Day on 22nd March, the United Nations World Water Development Report highlights the relationship between water and employment. An excellent opportunity to remind us of the impact that availability of water resources has on populations and their work, but also on the development of societies and economies..

Credit: SUEZ / William Daniels

33% rise in the world population between 2011 and 2050, 60% increase in the demand for food, doubling of populations living in urban areas, rising from 3.6 billion in 2011 to 6.3 billion in 2050…The need for water and its uses will continue to rise, resulting in increased stress on fresh water resources by 2050. Another 2.3 billion people will be living in areas with severe water stress. The UN World Water Development Report provides the figures and reminds us how much water is essential to human activities such as agriculture, industry, transport or energy production. Water drives job creation and economic growth.

“Better water, better jobs”, a key theme

This is the key subject chosen for World Water Day 2016 (22 March) and also a core theme of the United Nations report launched on in Geneva on the same day. The report underlines the interdependency between water and work. It also insists on the fact that without water, there can be no work: an estimated three out of four jobs that make up the global workforce are either heavily or moderately dependent on water. Almost a billion people are employed in agriculture, fishing and forestry.

Access to water, a core issue for economic growth

“Water generates and sustains jobs worldwide, but attaining the development goals will not just be a matter of adequate resources of water as a raw material. Water quality and sanitation remains essential in providing a decent livelihood. Of the 2.3 million work-related deaths every year, 17 percent can be linked to communicable diseases and unsafe drinking water” said Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO at the opening of World Water Day. Availability of drinking water and sanitation to all is more than ever a core subject of economic issues.

Direct and indirect employment: high-impact investment

The UN report also highlights the fact that job creation in the sectors of water resource management, drinking water supplies or sanitation systems can generate high returns on investment and a significant multiplier effect in other sectors. Optimised management of water can have positive effects upstream of economic activity (in terms of flood prevention, combating drought, etc.) and also act as a catalyst for other activities.

The report refers to the conclusions of numerous studies published recently. For example, one 2009 report by the World Bank estimated that an investment of USD 1 billion in water supply equipment and the development of sanitation networks in Latin America would directly result in the creation of 100,000 jobs. Another study concerning Peru showed that villages with a renovated irrigation infrastructure employed 30% more agricultural workers than similar villages without the renovation. The higher efficiency of the irrigation system helped crops to grow better and produce higher yields. Another example in the USA: the department of Trade discovered that each job created at a local level in the water sector led to the creation of 3.68 indirect jobs on a national level.

To browse the full report, click here.

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