The latest challenge for India’s businesses? Water scarcity

Organizations operating throughout the Indian subcontinent are focused on financial strategies to win in the marketplace, but they also need to consider important issues such as sustainability and business continuity. Most spend a great deal of time and money planning and preparing for cyberattacks, physical threats, floods, storms or political unrest. But there’s another challenge we must be prepared to manage. It involves something essential, something that we take for granted in our business and personal lives: the availability of water.

While water scarcity is a common issue for the agriculture sector in India, and for many people in other parts of the world, it is not typically considered to be a threat to business continuity. Most corporations have the ability to buy water from private suppliers at a negligible cost.

But severe water scarcity in Chennai this year has created serious issues that we have not seen before. After two years of insufficient rainfall from monsoons, which supply water to the region’s four main reservoirs, there is very little water for residents of the city. The government has sent water trucks to the region for the people who live there – but the demand is much greater than the supply. The amount of available water dropped so severely that private water suppliers could not provide enough water for companies – even those that could afford higher prices.

At the time, some building managers cautioned their clients that they might have to close offices because of the water shortage. This was a scenario we had never before factored into our business continuity management (BCM) planning. When private water suppliers then threatened to call a strike, BCM teams rushed to their war rooms to devise mitigation strategies. Employees were asked to work from home in some cases and to support building management-recommended water austerity measures in offices. These included replacing taps to use less water and relying on disposable plates and eating utensils. Employees were urged to adopt similar programmes at home.

To address the water shortage and find ways to prevent similar situations in the future, our priority should be teaching government, communities and employees how to develop and implement water-management and reuse strategies – such as rainwater collection and highly treated wastewater in office buildings. Reclaimed water can be used for non-drinking needs like washrooms, air conditioning coolers and landscaping. We must also provide incentives for developers who bring these technologies into their projects.

We need to increase companies’ awareness about the importance of water management and reusable strategies in their office buildings. Businesses in Chennai should dedicate a portion of their corporate social responsibility budgets to work with non-governmental organizations to help revive reservoirs and water bodies in and around the area. In addition, we must convince all our employees to serve as advocates in the community to expand water reclamation efforts.

Water scarcity is a critical business continuity issue that must be addressed. The availability of clean water moves beyond a business need; it is a requirement for survival that will determine whether our region can enjoy a sustainable future.

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