VOICES Voices Icon Ideas and Insight From Explorers


World Water Day event focuses on growing thirst

“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

nongovernmental organizations.

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

    agencies; and,

  • 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


–James Robertson