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A Water-Secure Future for All

March 22, 2011

The purpose of this year’s World Water Day is to focus international attention on the impact of rapid urban population growth, industrialization and uncertainties caused by climate change, conflict, and natural disasters on urban water systems.

By spotlighting attention on the regions most affected by global water crisis, the Global Water Challenge Coalition aims to encourage governments, organizations, communities, and individuals to actively engage in addressing urban water management. In addition to the incredible figures of hardship, however, there are a suite of positive projects to look at. Not only are they high points in a long story of despair, but they show that access and sanitation can and is being addressed in some places. Watercredit, a microfinance tool where local banks provide small loans to the poorest households to access water systems, has connected 600 people to a managed freshwater supply (60 households total, costing $200 per household) in the Kisumu, Kenya region. This is a Green Quick Fix!

To stoke hype, the Coalition and many other groups have launched social media campaigns where millions donate their voice via Twitter and Facebook to the cause of global water crisis, fundraising campaigns, political action campaigns such as One.org’s petition to the Senate (Budget Cuts Could Cost Lives), demonstrations, and special talks like yesterday’s conversation with Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero. Global Water Challenge Co-Chair Harriet Babbitt spoke with her as part of the State Department’s “Conversations with America” series that is to showcase how leaders from civil society can engage the government on foreign policy issues.

Water industry organizations like The Water Environment Federation and International Water Association sponsored World Water Monitoring Day–also today–to spark interest in local water resources protection. The message: it’s not just the global supplies that are in danger! Water crisis is experienced in the United States–such as in the Native American communities of the arid Southwest–and even in places like historically water-rich Wisconsin where drought challenges beg the question of industrial overuse of water resources. We have our weak spots here in Massachusetts as well.

Local environmental organizations, like GoGreenWebDirectory.com, the World over have added their voices to educate about the problem and link to resources where those concerned can either learn more or take action. In planning GoGreen’s messages around World Water Day, colleagues on the GoGreen team asked, “How does taking a one-minute shorter shower help?” It’s a fair question, but not really the right question.

Conserving water here does not directly help those without water in another region far away, of course, but it does conserve our own Massachusetts water bank. There are many in Massachusetts that have voiced their concerns that we’re dewatering our aquifers. We use water at a high rate, we send it without a care into the sewer system, and in some cases (60+ communities), we treat this waste and send the effluent (i.e., highly treated, fresh potable water) 10 miles out into the ocean. At the same time, the preponderance of impervious surfaces not only fuels stormwater runoff problems throughout Massachusetts, but also prevents rainwater from getting back into the ground to replenish our precious aquifers.

Modern water engineering, while world class and a way to keep compliance with the Clean Water Act, is albeit, not sustainable. In the United States, sustainable water systems have developed out of need. Once a water engineer in Florida–a state leading water reuse systems and technologies–told me “Even in a water rich state, water is not always where we want it.”

In a world where the chief constant is our need for water, it’s my belief that water should be respected everywhere. It should never be wasted, or treated as an inexpensive cast-off commodity, but rather saved and preserved. It’s a matter of life–the environment’s and our own–and security. Do you remember in May 2010 when Massachusetts Water Resources Main Line broke? (If not, you can read about it here.) While it was fixed in days and the Authority’s well-planned emergency management strategies were put into action, there were still ridiculous stories of human response. My favorite, an older woman pushed a child from a pallet of bottled water at Costco. “I need this more than you do,” she said as an excuse for her rudeness and hysteria.

To further the point that water is indeed security, today at 2 p.m. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the World Bank at its headquarters in Washington D.C. that “will strengthen support to developing countries seeking a water secure future.” The event will be streaming live here.

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