It’s a good bet the world will run out of water before it runs out of energy or food. The United Nations says 1.2 billion people, or a fifth of the global population, live in water-stressed areas already, and nobody thinks the situation is going to get better soon. The American intelligence community, for one, believes that water shortages could destabilize half of North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia over the next decade.
The threat isn’t lost on the world’s biggest companies. A new report from CDP, a London-based non profit, reveals that a large number are worried about future water shortages. Of 174 companies (from the Global 500 list) that disclosed data, 22% said water issues could limit the growth. Of those, one third said water would affect operations in the next 12 months.
“Water is an essential resource for any business. The potential for water-related problems to damage brand value or limit corporate growth is increasingly understood,” says CDP’s Paul Simpson, in a press release.
Utilities, energy companies and consumer goods groups were most likely to report “substantive” water risks. Mining is another at-risk industry, with several recent projects shelved because of worries about water. The good news that a growing number of companies–three quarters of those in the survey–are assessing how water issues affect their future business.
Some of the biggest risks are in prized emerging markets like Brazil, China, India, and Mexico, the CDP reports. Sao Paulo, for example, is currently facing an unprecedented drought despite Brazil having some of the most plentiful freshwater resources in the world. With strong population growth and often lax environmental controls, it’s the fast growing economies that could face water shortages first.