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1 February 2003 The Need to Assess Water as a Risk Factor: Swiss Re Publications on Water
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Water has always played a major role in insurance, particularly in the form of storms or torrential rain, causing floods or triggering land- and mudslides. Modern risk research is clear on one factor: in the future, water will gain pivotal importance—as an issue affecting society, ecology and the economy.

Water is a basic necessity of life. And yet, the ongoing pollution and depletion of global water resources, together with the rapidly increasing world population and its growing demand for potable water, are putting an ever-greater burden on this precious commodity. This trend has disastrous consequences for health and nutrition, and it represents a threat to both ecosystems and future economic development. Climate change only serves to compound these problems. Swiss Re is committed to sustainable development and regards its involvement in the water issue as an obligation that is part of its wider corporate social responsibility.

Corporate commitment

Swiss Re is committed to:

  • Promoting expertise and awareness of water-related problems among its clients, shareholders, and employees.

  • Engaging in constructive dialogue on water issues as a contribution towards establishing legal frameworks, guidelines, and best practice methods.

  • Including specific risk selection and safety criteria, as well as preventive measures, in its risk transfer concepts. These same fundamentals apply both to the way the company manages its investments and to its corporate properties.

  • Supporting eco-efficient water initiatives launched by government, the scientific community, and industry.

The way water is handled as a natural resource has an immediate impact on the insurance sector and involves both risks and opportunities. The risks are well known and lie primarily in the area of liability. However, water also presents opportunities as it shifts from being a public good to a commercial product, necessitating new insurance concepts and offering investment potential.

The Water Factor information package contains several short publications on various aspects of water and the challenges that lie ahead. It is one illustration of the constructive role Swiss Re is playing in the water dialogue.

Water availability

The debate on water availability clearly shows that current trends in water consumption are not sustainable, either locally in the short term or globally in the medium term.

In 1995, just under 50% of the world population was living under so-called “water-stressed” conditions, water stress being defined as per capita water availability of 1700 m3 or less. If current supply and demand trends continue, at least 3.5 billion people—or 59% of the world population—will be living under such conditions by 2025, while a third will be living in regions facing water scarcity, ie with less than 1000 m3 freshwater available per capita per year.

Water quality

Potable-grade water has already become scarce in many regions of the world. Water pollution resulting from human activities, the depletion of water reserves and aquifers caused by rising population levels, and the squandering of this vital resource worldwide may assume huge proportions, making corrective action increasingly difficult to implement.

Problems relating to water quality and wastewater facilities are further aggravated by population growth and migration to urban areas—trends that are set to continue in the future. Even major cities in many industrialized countries still discharge untreated urban wastewater.

Throughout the world, vast quantities of industrial waste contaminated by chemical compounds continue to be discharged directly into the waterways, even though sewage networks and sanitation systems are in place.

Upcoming water publications

The information package consists of 4 publications. Whereas publications on the 2 issues mentioned above—Water Quality and Water Availability—were issued in early 2002, a new publication on Large Dams will be added soon, and one on Ocean Pollution will follow in May 2003.

How to order The Water Factor

All publications in The Water Factor (and other Swiss Re publications) can be downloaded from (Research & Publications> Swiss Re publications>Focus reports). They can also be ordered by email from Ask for a specific issue by referring to the title or for the whole package entitled The Water Factor.


Water Availability is one of four publications on the topic of water published by Swiss Re.

Thomas Streiff "The Need to Assess Water as a Risk Factor: Swiss Re Publications on Water," Mountain Research and Development 23(1), 89-90, (1 February 2003).[0089:TNTAWA]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 February 2003

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