Education’s Unlikely Role in the Water Crisis
Collaboration between governments, nonprofit organizations and the private sector has led to considerable improvements in water technologies and advancements in access to clean water around the world. In the last decade alone, approximately 200 million people have gained access to clean water, which will help the world meet the United Nation’s Millennium Development environmental sustainability goal. This target aims to halve the over 884 million people who do not have sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.
While there has been significant progress in providing the developing world with access to safe water and sanitation, there are several factors, such as climate change, population growth and pollution further complicating the impending global water crisis. Given that these factors place significant pressure on water resources, it may seem counterintuitive to focus on a seemingly unrelated subject to address a different problem – education.
But the idea that education can be effectively leveraged to help solve our world’s water and sanitation issues has been a widely discussed, especially here at Stockholm World Water Week, the annual conference that brings together over 2,500 people from 136 countries to discuss urgent water-related issues. Yesterday, an event hosted by my company, ITT Corp., convened four experts in the water space, Elynn Walter, the program director of Global Water, Health and Schools at Water Advocates; Ned Breslin, chief executive officer of Water for People; Randy Martin, director of Mercy Corps’ Global Emergency Operations team; and J. Carl Ganter, director and founder of Circle Blue, to weigh in on this issue. A key take away from the discussion was that governments, nonprofits and corporations must educate communities in the developing world about the importance of clean water and sanitation in order to have a sustainable impact. Rather than entering a community, developing a clean water system and immediately leaving, educating individuals on how to maintain the facilities, long after the infrastructure is built, encourages them to take ownership of local water projects within their communities. This ultimately leads to sustainable water solutions and long-term success.
ITT Watermark, ITT’s signature corporate citizenship program, is committed to securing safe water by integrating education into its mission and programs. As I see it, some of ITT Watermark’s greatest successes come from educating local communities around the necessity of safe water and sanitation. For example, ITT Watermark initiated and is the global sponsor of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, the most prestigious international student competition for water-related research, and has worked with its nonprofit profit partners, the China Women’s Development Foundation and Water For People, to bring safe water, sanitation and hygiene education to 300 schools in the developing world by the end of 2010. These lessons, which seem so basic to many western communities, greatly enhance the value of life because they open doors to higher quality of living. The bottom line is that by providing water-related lessons to a community, from school children to their family members, ITT Watermark is empowering local communities to effectively operate and manage their water systems for many years to come.
Conversations at World Water Week reinforced the value of education that ITT Watermark has been practicing since the program’s creation in 2008. ITT has just announced a commitment of an additional $10.5 million to ITT Watermark over three years (2011-2013). The world faces a huge challenge when it comes to access to clean water and there is no quick fix. If we are going to solve this crisis, we will need to do so by working together to educate communities around the world and promote sustainable water projects that ensure individuals have access to the basic necessities needed to survive.
Bjorn Von Euler is director of corporate philanthropy for ITT Corp. He is writing a series of reports on the World Water Week event in Stockholm, Sweden, for Environmental Leader.
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