Celebrating World Water Day: an interview with Chris McCombe

In celebration of World Water Day, we caught up with ICMM’s Water Stewardship Manager, Chris McCombe.

What does World Water Day mean to you?

World Water Day is an important reminder of the value of water to us all. It is a reminder there is much more to be done and it is a call for action for everyone, but especially industry, agriculture and other large users of water, to redouble efforts to use this precious resource sustainably and fairly.

Why is water management in mining such an important issue at this time?

Across the world, our water resources are under increasing pressure from development, urbanisation, growing population and climate change. These affect both the availability and the quality of the water we all depend on. It is imperative that we manage water more effectively as a society.

Water is a shared resource that connects everyone living in the same catchment area with each other and their environment. So, all of us, including the mining industry, have an important part to play in water stewardship to make sure that it is used sustainably and fairly, so that there is enough water for everyone, now and in the future.

How far has the mining industry come in terms of water management since you have been working with the industry?

I’ve been engaged with ICMM’s water programme for around eight years. While water has always been important to the mining industry, there has been a step change in thinking over the last four or five years. We’ve moved beyond water management to a water stewardship approach. This means looking beyond the mine gate at the needs of people and the environment within the catchments in which we operate. Effective water stewardship requires collaboration with government, civil society, business and local communities.

Underpinning the industry’s approach to water stewardship, ICMM’s member companies have committed to improved transparency and reporting of water use, effective water management within their operations and collaboration on sustainable water use.

Why do your members sign up to do more than they are required to by government?

Different governments have different standards and in some cases the institutions don’t exist to ensure water resources are managed effectively. At ICMM we believe in having consistent high standards wherever in the world our members operate.

Regulation set by government is important but it is what we do beyond this that builds the industry’s social licence to operate. You don’t build trust by working in isolation.   We need to partner with our neighbours to build understanding, address challenges and create shared value.

Water stewardship makes good business sense – it enhances a company’s competitive advantage through reducing water-related risk, attracting investment and building trust through improved transparency.

Are you optimistic about the future? Why?

I’m optimistic. I believe we have the tools and the will to meet the water challenge, both within the mining sector and beyond. However, while we are making progress there remains much work ahead of us. The mining industry has committed to playing its part to ensure a sustainable future for our water resources.