Cedric Egger works as Water resources and environment manager at Nestlé Waters. He is an experienced hydrogeologist and previously worked for different NGOs like the International Red Cross or the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. As for all our interviews, we first let him watch people’s testimonies and then asked him a few related questions. The video shows a selection of his answers, and you can read his full interview below.
20QAW: What is your first reaction when you see those testimonies
Cédric Egger: My reaction is mixed, I understand that people are concerned about water use and the current water situation, which is unfortunately not going to get better. It’s very interesting to see how people approach this issue depending on where they live. Overall, it provides a good overview of the overall water context and the global water crisis we’re experiencing.
20QAW: Why are we growing more afraid that we might run short of water?
CE: There are many alarming signs regarding water, both in terms of quality and quantity. Water is essential to our daily lives; it is what unites all living beings, an indispensable requirement for life on our planet Earth, which also distinguishes itself from other planets by that fact of having water resources. It is very positive to witness people gaining awareness on this matter and I personally share their concern.
With global warming, there will be more and more water on Earth, but unequally distributed.
20QAW: How is water present on Earth?
CE: Water quantity on Earth has remained the same for more than 3 billion years, and contrary to many other resources, water is fully renewable and recyclable. It operates in a cycle and can be reused indefinitely. The challenge today is to ensure water preservation and use it in a sustainable fashion. But that doesn’t mean there will be less water in the future. Quite the opposite is in fact happening with global warming; there is more and more water entering the cycle, but unfortunately, it is distributed unequally: regions where rain is already abundant will experience more rainfall and flooding while dry regions will become even drier, which will lead to greater imbalance. The volume of water is finite, which is why we need to take great care of this renewable but finite resource.
20QAW: What’s the share of clean usable water available on Earth?
CE: Only 1% of the Earth’s water is accessible and drinkable. A commonly accepted fact in the scientific community is that at a human scale, we’re already using more water than what is renewable. And this gap is linked to the desalination processes that are used around the world.
Unfortunately, those who lack access to water the most are the ones who are aware of its true value
20QAW: How much is the water cycle affected by human behaviours?
CE: Both in terms of quality and quantity, human activities create an imbalance by overly concentrating water extraction around large urban centres as more and more people are moving towards coastlines, which tends to unsettle the natural balance that has been in place for millions of years. And this imbalance is only going to become more difficult to solve as time goes on.
20QAW: How much are people aware that water is a precious resource?
CE: Unfortunately, those who lack access to water the most are the ones who are aware of its true value. On the contrary in our western societies, we don’t even realise the luxury we live in by having access to tap water. This is precisely why we need to implement the necessary projects and initiatives to bridge the gap between regions that have an abundance of water and others that lack access to it, either qualitatively or quantitatively.
The main issue is demographic growth. There are more and more people on the planet while the volume of available water remains the same
20QAW: Are we going to see more and more “Cape Town”-like events in the future?
CE: With the on-going demographic growth and the effects of climate change, we must better organise access to water on an hydrogeological level – where the water comes from, where it is stored and where it is transported to be used – and manage it as a resource to avoid facing such issues again in the coming years. Without a clear overview of the water available and how it is used, we will have great difficulty achieving sustainable water management.
20QAW: Are we really going to run out of water one day?
CE: The main issue is demographic growth. There are more and more people on the planet while the volume of available water remains the same, water that we pollute in many cases. There is indeed a risk, which is why we need to work together to preserve water, both in terms of quantity and quality.
20QAW: Who controls water?
CE: The situation varies substantially from one country or even region to the next, depending on water availability and the political regimes in place. In its essence, water should be managed on a global scale to prevent potential issues and we should work towards using water in a way that is environmentally, socially and financially sustainable.
Beyond our own operations, we are involved with local stakeholders to raise awareness on hydrogeological cycles and work together towards coherent and fair solutions to better manage water as a resource.
20QAW: What means do we have to better manage water?
CE: Technologically, we have more and more ways to treat water depending on its quality. Overall, understanding the water cycle on a local scale is essential because it helps us, on a global scale, understand water issues to collaborate better in managing this shared resource. Water should be considered more as a shared commodity than a mere public commodity. So progress can be both technological and social. This social consideration implies a good knowledge of water availability on a local level: for a specific catchment, we know the exact volume of rainfall available as well as the volume drawn by various stakeholders, which gives us a good perspective on water balance and provides the means to find solutions to local challenges.
20QAW: As a major water bottle company, what do you do to preserve water?
CE: In the industry, it is essential to implement the necessary technology to relevantly monitor how much water is collected. Throughout our infrastructure and operations, we ensure water is adequately used by avoiding waste at all cost. Beyond our own operations, we are involved with local stakeholders to raise awareness on hydrogeological cycles and work together towards coherent and fair solutions to better manage water as a resource.
20QAW: Any concrete example?
CE: In Switzerland, we have a programme called ECO-Broye that involves farmers, local authorities and biologists to approach challenges together regarding the forest, the ground, and even administrative issues, as well as ensure that all the projects implemented are indeed beneficial to all stakeholders.
20QAW: How do you imagine the water situation in a hundred years?
CE: I’m an optimist. I believe that our water stewardship approach, which is only starting to take shape, is a natural process. Water is such a fundamental resource that we’ll logically evolve towards more collaborative water management solutions because there is no alternative. It is all a matter of mind-set, and it will require tremendous effort to harmonise that mind-set on a global scale and convince all stakeholders. With regard to the people in the video, I share their concerns, but I believe we need to remain optimistic and discuss together to analyse the challenges on hand and work together to find solutions.
20QAW: Is there something you want to add?
CE: An area in which a large group like ours can contribute effectively is the sharing of information. Through our activities, we acquire relevant knowledge on how the water cycle works - where water comes from, where it is stored and where it is transported to be used - which means we are in a prime position to digest that information and inform local stakeholders who may not be initially interested in that matter about the challenges on hand, to then work together towards finding solutions beneficial for all.