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Corinne Hanson’s Blog

NRDC Goes to Stockholm World Water Week 2013

Corinne Hanson

Posted September 2, 2013

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Hallå from Stockholm, Sweden! I’m currently here attending the 2013 World Water Week, and today was the first day of the week-long conference.  Water is a critical issue for the world, as it affects many facets of our lives including the ability to produce food and drinking water, energy, water for hygiene and sanitation, and much more. Yet currently, nearly one million people lack access to clean, safe drinking water, over 35% of the world’s population lacks access to a toilet, and 90% of sewage is discharged untreated into rivers in the developing world. We’re rapidly approaching a world in which water scarcity causes widespread conflict and suffering. Given the severity, breadth and depth (only water pun in the whole blog, promise) of these water issues, I was very surprised to feel so optimistic at the close of the conference’s opening day.

There are many improvements already being made in the world of global water. For example, we reached the millennium development goal’s (MDG) target for drinking water five years early in 2010, halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water (in 2010, 89% of the population used an improved source of drinking-water compared with 76% in 1990). Some countries specifically have seen great success; since the 1970’s, over a quarter of Egypt’s population has gained access to new and improved water supply or sanitation services.  Of course there is much more work to be done.  We are not on track to meet the MDG’s sanitation target and far too large a population still lives without access to sustainable water solutions. Sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation is arguably the most important issue in the world; lack of access impacts every facet of people’s lives (things that we take for granted like voting, owning land, working and attending school become difficult or impossible when people are too busy carrying water, or too starving, thirsty and sick). The discussions I am participating in at World Water Week and the “all hands on deck” approach echoed by the participants, speakers and conveners are inspiring and motivating.

Each year, World Water Week focuses on a more specific water-related theme around which many of the seminars and workshops are based, and this year that theme is “Water Cooperation- Building Partnerships.” As Colleen Vollberg from Conservation International said in the first seminar of the day, “life does not happen in sectors.” Throughout today, speakers from various fields espoused the benefits of data sharing, increased access to information, more efficient spending through public-private partnerships, increased awareness and above all, collaboration. Collaboration is critical if we’re going to make serious gains in improving access to clean safe water for all. Every last person on this planet needs water to survive and we all have an incentive to protect our water supply. If we’re going to have any hope of worldwide access to clean, safe water, we’re going to need to share and implement best-practices and cost-effective, sustainable solutions.

And in the face of this incredibly daunting task, I’m hopeful. Today’s youth have a certain thirst, fervor, excitement and a growing sense of personal responsibility and awareness of environmental issues (in fact, there’s an entire day of World Water Week dedicated to the work of youth and young professionals). You can dismiss this feeling or you can nurture it. The fact remains, we’re no longer talking about the issues that will impact our children, the world we’ll leave behind. We’re talking about today. We’re talking about the problems the world’s population faces right now. I’m still relatively new to this realm, but I know without a doubt that this work requires intergenerational cooperation. In the words of Bart Devos, World Youth Parliament for Water (WYPW), “It’s much more fun to be the solution rather than the problem.” Bart sat right along Dan Bena from Pepsico and Bruce Wills from World Farmers Organization. This entire week focuses on collaboration – not just between sectors but between countries, regions, ages, organizations, experts and local communities. These partnerships will enable us to leverage the particular kinds of value each group can bring. I am hopeful that the next several years will bring great strides towards achieving greater water security, healthy ecosystems, and clean drinking water and sanitation for all. 

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