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Every day should be world water day

World Water Day came and went yesterday–and to judge from the coverage in the U.S. media it wasn’t exactly big news.

Nearly a billion people–one-sixth of the world’s population–have no access to safe drinking water, 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation, and more than 3 million people die from water-related diseases each year, National Geographic Chairman Gil Grosvenor said in remarks posted on this blog yesterday.

By my calculation 8,219 people die every day from water-related diseases. So many fatalities would be top of the news if they were caused by an earthquake or a tsunami.

Two billion tons of human and animal waste and industrial pollution are dumped into waterways every day around the world, our environment producer, Tasha Eichenseher, reported from Kenya yesterday.

Citing a UN Environment Program (UNEP) report, Sick Water, Eichenseher reported that sewage and animal waste was “the biggest source of global water pollution, flushing pathogens and an overdose of nutrients and sediments into rivers and lakes, and out to sea.”

By the way, the so-called developed world is also impacted by this–read Eichenseher’s report.

It is a critical situation for all of us–all humans, all animals, and all plants–because our survival depends on Earth’s precious freshwater. How we look after water and how we share it–both in the way we receive it and the way we hand it on–are topics for urgent discussion and action. I encourage you to find out more by visiting our Freshwater Web site.

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We must do more than read about this. There are lots of events and activities going on in this week of World Water Day–and afterward, every day, week, and month.

This is not a problem that is going away or even diminishing. It’s a situation that’s getting worse. We must all keep it on our radar, and learn to respect and use freshwater responsibly in our daily living.

Under-reported issue

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is a nonprofit supporter of independent international journalism that U.S. media organizations are increasingly less able to undertake. According to its website, the Center “focuses on under-reported topics, promoting high-quality international reporting and creating platforms that reach broad and diverse audiences.”

One of the issues in its focus is water.

Downstream: Our Water, Our Lives is a “Pulitzer Gateway” that approaches the water issue in four parts: Health, Economics, Conflict/Cooperation, and Climate. There is reporting from regions around the world by Pulitzer Center-sponsored journalists.

“Consider how you affect those downstream and how those upstream affect you.”

“As you learn about the water issue, consider how you affect those downstream and how those upstream affect you,” the website says. “We hope you’ll join the conversation–through comments and questions and by uploading your own perspective on the ‘Your Stories’ feature.”

A hallmark of the Pulitzer Center’s approach is multiple collaborations and sustained outreach, especially to schools and universities.

 

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One example is the essay contest it is currently sponsoring on Helium.com, a popular writers’ site, to engage individuals in the question of what responsibility we have for the thousands of people who die each day as a result of water-borne disease.

The contest has produced nearly 60 entries so far, from all over the world; they were featured in a recent post to the Pulitzer Center’s Untold Stories blog.

report from rural Ethiopia was the first in a series of reports on water in a collaboration between the Pulitzer Center, National Geographic Magazine, and PBS NewsHour. The video, “Wells in Ethiopia Draw on Community Support,” can be watched below:

 

Additional stories include a report from southern Sudan on the nearly completed effort to eradicate guinea worm and a report from Nairobi on a successful entrepreneurial effort to provide clean toilets in urban slums.

If you don’t catch these reports on television, they can be watched on the Downstream portal.

The Pulitzer Center work with NewsHour and other recent videos on water are also featured as part of the Environmental Film Festival, in Washington, D.C. this week. The event is free and open to the public. Details may be found on the Pulitzer Center website.

[This post has been reformatted for Water Currents.]