5 Jul 2016

Wasted EFfort

tl;dr: I'm totally annoyed that people who should know better have missed an opportunity to improve water governance.

I wrote two weeks ago about the importance of good governance to sustainable water management. MS was kind enough to send a sad example of totally missing that point.

What makes this example particularly appalling (to me) is that it comes from the World Economic Forum, i.e., the Swiss facilitators of the annual Davos meeting among Illuminati high and mighty decision makers.

Back in 2011-12, I had several email conversations going with WEF staffers, hoping that they could use WEF's status as a leading non-profit to advocate for better governance (=less corruption) in the water sector. Such a campaign, I argued, would serve its business members and average citizens while undoing unsustainable practices that waste money and benefit cronies. I have not seen much sign of such a campaign (their Global Water Initiative project doesn't even mention "governance" or "corruption"), but I had my hopes.

But then MS sent me this campaign for World Water Day:

OK, so Mina is going to run 1,680 km to "raise awareness." Mina likes to run, and she's representing who?
Thirst is an initiative of the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders, a unique, multi­stakeholder community of more than 700 exceptional young leaders who share a commitment to shaping the future.

Thirst aspires to be the world's leading water community, affecting change in society by making consumers aware of the value of water.

Our vision is a future where supply of water is greater than demand, where there is enough water for all, forever.
Ok, and how are they going to do that?

Ok, pledges... to contribute money or use less water. Well, they only got $2,700, or 4% of the funding target. That result makes their water conservation (via totally non-binding pledges) look rather good:

135 million liters. Well, that's only 13.5% of their goal but it sure sounds like a lot. Let's see. That's 135,000 m^3 of water (about 35 million gallons), which is a lot to drink but not too much when you put the volumes into bulk units, i.e., 0.135 MCM (also called gigaliters, or 109 acre feet). If that was Perrier, it would be worth $471 million ($3.450/m^3, bubbles not included). If it came out of my Amsterdam tap, then it would cost $187,000 ($1.38 or €1.24/m^3). If I wanted to buy this water on the Australian market (using a recent quote of AU$170/ML for temporary water, not the water right), it would cost about US$17,400. Using Imperial Irrigation District's price of $20/acre foot, that's about $2,200 of water saved. My point with these numbers is that the value, price and cost of water vary by alot.

So that's the benefit of this campaign, but what about the costs? That's awfully hard to find in terms of cash. Thirst claims to be "a model of transparency, integrity and honesty," but their 2015 Annual report [pdf] is a case study in financial obfuscation (try to find any aggregate figure on spending). Their staff of 16 must be paid something, and I am guessing that it's more than $43,000 ($0.63/"person reached" times 68,458 students reached -- "152% of target!" that can be backed out of the non-financial report). I'm not going to debate this cost/benefit, as Thirst does a lot of outreach to students, but let's get back to the main point:

Bottom Line If WEF's Young Ambassador's are trying to have an impact, then "conserving" 135 million liters is pretty weak compared to spending all those hours of volunteer, staff and supporter time on discovering, explaining and improving water governance. Isn't that what we'd expect the world's next generation of leaders to do if they were going to really address water scarcity? Three minute showers are not the enemy, bad policies are (here are 500+ more).