11.13.2006

Running Dry

I started getting interested in global water issues in college, when I
read a number of articles about water scarcity and its adverse effects
on the poorest, youngest, and most vulnerable. Some suggested that
water and not oil would soon become the liquid that caused more
conflict in the Middle East.

Now, as then, I am astounded by the sheer numbers, as presented at the
Philadelphia Global Water Initiative's Kick-Off Conference, which I
briefly attended this morning at the University of Pennsylvania:

* more than 1 billion people lack access to improved water sources and
more than 2 billion people lack access to improved sanitation

* at any given moment, over half of the world's hospital beds are
occupied by people suffering from water-related diseases

* each year, almost 2 million people -- mostly children under the age
of 5 -- will die from diarrhea, an easily preventable water-related
disease

These and other stats were provided in Senator Paul Simon's June 2006
report to Congress, which went on to speak of the linkage between
water and disease, poverty, lack of access to education, women's
inequality, child mortality, environmental degradation, and war.
Given how vital water is to basic human life, and how relatively easy
it is to provide interventions to help people safely access it, it
astounds me how little we in America are aware of this global crisis
in the making.

Hopefully not for long, if the Philadelphia Global Water Initiative
and other such movements would have their way. Indeed, celebrities
are starting to lend their fame to the cause, including Jay-Z, Jane
Seymour, and, locally, NBC10 meteorologist (and PENN grad student) Amy
Freeze, who introduced at this morning's conference a short film
called "Running Dry." The film (which you can watch at
www.runningdry.org) features such luminaries as Shimon Peres and
Mikhail Gorbachev, and paints a stark and vivid picture of the squalor
too many of the world's children live in.

On a personal note, I could not help but think of my own daughter, who
was likely born into a dirt-poor Chinese village that lacked running
water and had sanitation issues. In other words, those stats I
rattled off above have become harder for me to rattle off as cold,
hard numbers, because I know that there are individual little boys and
girls that those numbers represent, boys and girls who should not have
to wonder where their next drink of clean water will come from, boys
and girls who should not die of diarrhea by the millions every year.

I urge you to watch the film at www.runningdry.org, and in general to
become more intellectually informed and politically active towards
global solutions to our growing water crisis. And every once in a
while, when you brush your teeth or take a shower or fill your cup
from the tap for a drink, won't you say a prayer for those political,
scientific, and environmental leaders who are working towards a world
in which no one fights or dies for lack of clean water?

A couple of useful reports that were referenced at the conference:

* Paul Simon's full report to Congress -
http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/67716.pdf

* UNDP's "Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty, and the Global Water
Crisis" - http://hdr.undp.org/hdr2006/

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