7-8 JUNE 2017 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

The central role of water for inclusive and sustainable growth and the creation of decent jobs

The central role of water for inclusive and sustainable growth and the creation of decent jobs

How sustainable water management can enable the creation of decent jobs and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 18:00 to 19:15

Key points

  • Some 30 % of the global workforce is directly employed in water-dependent sectors, such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry.
  • Investing in water is investment in jobs.
  • Water scarcity is an important driver of migration and war, and has a strong gender dimension.
  • Tens of thousands of preventable deaths are due to water scarcity and poor hygiene.
  • Wastewater is a valuable resource, yet globally more than 80 % is released without treatment.


There is a strong correlation between the availability of water and economic development, especially in low-income countries. Water management and job creation go hand in hand. More than 30 % of the workforce worldwide is employed in the core water-dependent sectors of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. If the energy, construction and other sectors are added, the share rises to more than 50 %. Indirectly, some 75 % of jobs globally are water-dependent.

The potential employment effects of investment in water are considerable. Water treatment plants, for example, directly employ engineers, administrative staff, security guards and indirectly, many more. Crucially are the induced and growth-related jobs in the wider economy that are made possible by investment in water.

Water scarcity, by contrast, is not only the cause of tens of thousands of preventable deaths and a brake on development, but is also an important driver for migration and war. Syria, for example, underwent its most severe drought ever in the years preceding the outbreak of war. Water scarcity also tends to affect women and girls first, by preventing them from entering education or joining the workforce. In Africa, it is estimated that women and girls spend the equivalent of one year’s worth of work by France’s entire workforce on collecting water every year. Worldwide, some 2.4 billion people still need access to better sanitation, with almost 1billion lacking access to sanitation.

Wastewater is a valuable resource rich in water, minerals, and fertiliser, yet an estimated 80 % of wastewater in the world is released into the environment without any treatment. In the least developed countries, the figure is typically 100 %. Treating wastewater is good for the environment and has the potential to create jobs directly and indirectly. The United Nations World Water Development Report 2016 noted that one study estimated that every US$1 billion invested in water supply and sanitation networks in Latin America would directly result in about 100,000 jobs. In Kinshasa, small water systems operated by local communities have created 400 local sustainable jobs.

However, in the current programming cycle and following the end of the EU’s Water Facility, fewer than 10 countries in Africa have designated water as a focal sector, which reduces opportunities for obtaining funds for blending under the African Investment Facility.


Water is a horizontal concern that cuts across gender equality, economic development, health and climate change. Might this be the reason why it appears to no longer receive the attention it requires?

Organised by

    Eric Beaume
    Deputy Head of Unit Water, DG for infrastructures and cities
    European Commission - DG for International Cooperation and Development
    Lucilla Minelli
    Programme Officer
    United Nations World Water Assessment Programme of UNESCO
    Céline Gilquin
    Head of Water Unit
    Agence Française de Développement
    Stefan Uhlenbrook
    United Nations World Water Assessment Programme of UNESCO
    Paolo Ciccarelli
    Head of Unit
    European Commission - DG for International Cooperation and Development
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