I spoke today at the International Water Forum held at the United Nations. The Forum was organized by the Energy and Water Institute of New York and The Chronicles Group in cooperation with The World Water Organization (WWO), and WaterAid America.
The International Water Forum at the United Nations convened policy makers, academics, non-governmental organizations, and private sector representatives toward organizing a worldwide education and awareness campaign on the global water crisis.
I outlined such key challenges as: by 2025, as much as two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stress – conditions where water has become an impediment to socio-economic development. Over 800 million people around the world lack access to an improved water source, and 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation. The lack of access to water, sanitation, and hygiene causes an estimated 2.1 million deaths every year. The worst drought in over half a century in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia has left over 12.7 million people in need of emergency assistance.
In describing the US Government response, I noted that from FY 2003 through 2010, USAID provided either first-time access or improved access to drinking water supply to more than 50 million people, and USAID provided either first-time or improved sanitation to over 39 million people. Over the past 8 years, USAID has, on average, provided almost ten (10) million people per year with access to either drinking water or sanitation.
On building global awareness, I first shared a relevant anecdote: Earlier this week, the national television news carried a story about a man being rescued by a group of people. A car had run over a motorcyclist, car and motorcycle burst into flames, and the motorcyclist was trapped under the car. The news clip showed how one individual walked up to the burning wreckage and tried to lift up the entire car. Subsequently a number of people joined in, lifted the car up, and pulled the severely injured man to safety.
I conveyed that this news story has a great deal of relevance to our challenge to build global awareness and education. The story appeals to the deep interest the public has in crises which they can relate to, the courage of one individual inspiring others to be equally courageous, success, the saving of a life, and recognition of such courage and impact.
I noted that in the water sector, many of the organizations represented at the Forum do just that every day — demonstrate courage, operate in dangerous conditions, inspire and mobilize others and save lives. Yet, rarely do such stories make it to the evening news.
I stressed the story that we want to convey again and again — through a wide range of media — is the plight which our fellow human beings face, the successful steps to be taken to meet the plight, the impact of not reaching out to our brothers and sisters, and what not only organizations but also individuals can do to reduce water related suffering.