“Next to oxygen, water is indisputably the most precious resource we
have, and the shortage of freshwater is the biggest long-term problem
facing the planet Earth. Even energy is a distant second–with energy,
we have alternatives. With water there are none.”
This dire warning from Gil Grosvenor, chairman of the National
Geographic Society, served as an introduction to the World Water Day
event today at the National Geographic Society headquarters in
Washington, D.C. The Society and Water Advocates, a U.S. nonprofit that
focuses on increasing U.S. support for water issues around the world,
hosted the event with input from more than 20 other nongovernmental
Representatives from most of the organizations spoke about what they
are doing to provide solutions to water and sanitation issues around the
world, and a few common themes emerged.
Many of the representatives stressed the need for country-based
initiatives, which make individual countries responsible for solutions
to water problems, rather than multinational institutions or
Several speakers at the conference also talked about the need for
more private investment in water and sanitation. Ed Cain from the Conrad
N. Hilton Foundation said that while U.S. foundations gave $250 million
for water and sanitation issues in 2008, it was less than 1 percent of
the total donated for the cause worldwide.
“While private philanthropy needs to do more, the major amount of
resources needs to come from the public and private sectors,” Cain said.
The main representative of the public sector at the conference was
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who described the Obama
administration’s strategy toward water issues. She outlined 5 “streams
of action” that the administration will be focusing on:
- Building capacity to deal with water issues at the local, national,
and regional levels;
- Coordinating diplomatic efforts between the many international
organizations that deal with water;
- Providing resources to water projects;
- Sharing science and technology developed by U.S. government
- Developing partnerships with non-governmental organizations.
“We spend a lot of time working on issues such as terrorism and arms
control and nuclear proliferation. These are obviously important topics
that deserve our attention. But the reality is that they are not
problems most people deal with on a day-to-day basis. Water is
different. When we demonstrate our concern for the issue, it speaks to
individuals on a whole different level. Everyone knows the sensation of
thirst firsthand,” said Clinton.
Secretary Clinton’s full remarks:
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, president of Liberia, also addressed the
conference by video, sharing her country’s goal to provide safe drinking
water to 50 percent and human-waste collection facilities to 40 percent
of Liberia’s population by 2012. Johnson-Sirleaf was named a Goodwill
Ambassador for Water, Sanitation, and Hygeine by WaterAid and the
African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation (ANEW).
The overall message of the conference was that much is being done
now, but there’s still lots to do.
To learn more about the challenges of freshwater visit our freshwater
page and freshwater