It’s been a busy week in Stockholm, with sessions, side events, meetings and workshops all seeking solutions to how we as a global community can manage the world’s fresh water. Along with the environmental community, participants include engineers, policymakers, agricultural specialists, and water, sanitation and hygiene groups — known to those of us in the water community as WASH. As a representative of CI, I’m here with a mission.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 2.6 billion people — half the developing world — lack access to adequate sanitation. Water-related diseases kill approximately 3 million people every year in developing countries, the majority of whom are children under the age of five. The WHO also estimates that as much as 10 percent of the total global disease burden could be mitigated by improvements related to drinking water, sanitation, hygiene and water resource management alone.
Across the globe, water-related climate change impacts are being experienced in the form of more severe and more frequent droughts and floods. The poor, who are the most vulnerable because they don’t have the financial or technical resources to adapt, are also likely to be affected the most.
Building on conversations at last March’s World Water Day events, I’ve spent much of the conference reaching out to the WASH community to highlight the need for all of us to work together for joint solutions to the most pressing water issues.
The conservation and sustainable management of freshwater ecosystems are vital to ensure sustainable access to water, sanitation and hygiene for all people. Forests, wetlands and floodplains provide cost-effective filtration, regulation and storage benefits that help provide clean water for people. They are also critically important where good sanitation systems are not in place.
In eastern Madagascar, we are proving that protecting watersheds and collaborating with local partners are both important tools for improving sanitation conditions. CI-Madagascar is working with local health organizations to raise awareness about the connections between freshwater ecosystems and human health — building latrines, distributing antibiotics and encouraging communities to continue traditional forest protection practices that keep trees standing, preserve species habitat and maintain a healthy watershed.
As World Water Week came to an end today, CI’s most notable action was the support of the Stockholm Statement, a set of recommendations for leaders attending the U.N.’s Rio+20 Summit on sustainable development next year. By protecting freshwater ecosystems and securing reliable access to water supplies, we can dramatically impact the lives of the people most dependent upon these vital water resources.
Colleen Vollberg is the manager of CI’s freshwater initiative.