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World Water Week Kicks Off With a Focus On Pollution, Quality

A group of over 2,500 leading water experts from 130 countries gathered in Stockholm on Sunday to kick off World Water Week, where they will focus on “increasing water pollution and dwindling water quality around the globe,” Agence France-Presse reports (Larson, 9/5).

“Urbanisation, agriculture, industry and climate change exert mounting pressure on both the quantity and quality of our water resources,” Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), the group who organizes the conference, “cautioned in their introduction to this year’s conference,” Deutsche Welle writes (Bolsover, 9/7).

“Water pollution is on the rise globally,” SIWI added, AFP continues, noting that “approximately two million tonnes of human waste is poured into rivers, lakes and the sea,” according to the news service, which adds that “in developing countries, a full 70 percent of industrial waste is dumped straight into waters without being treated, severely polluting the usable water supply.” The article details how climate change could further compromise the water supply and the effects of water pollution on human health (9/5).

In his opening address to the meeting, Anders Berntell, executive director of the SIWI highlighted the interconnectedness between access to clean water and sanitation and health, the Jordan Times reports. “In 2009, over 50 countries still reported cholera to the World Health Organisation (WHO) … [t]wo-hundred million people are infected with schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia. Every year 1.8 million people die from diarrhoeal disease attributable to unsafe water or poor sanitation and hygiene, mostly children under five,” Berntell said (Ghazal, 9/7).

AFP continues: “The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that within the next 15 years, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with acute water scarcity, and that a full two-thirds of the world’s inhabitants could be facing shortages.” The article includes comments by World Water Week director Jens Bergren, who addresses the need for increased awareness about how global water supplies are managed – a topic that will take center stage at this week’s meeting (9/5).

Meanwhile, the ITT Corporation “announced [Tuesday] at World Water Week that it has pledged $10.5 million over three years (2011-2013) to provide one million more people around the world with access to safe water and sanitation,” according to a Business Wire/MarketWatch press release. “The renewed commitment will expand the program’s presence in key emerging markets for ITT – including the addition of new countries in Latin America, and increasing the reach of its current programs in India and China. The program will also continue to leverage ITT’s expertise to promote water education through the company’s partnership with the Stockholm International Water Institute’s renowned Stockholm Junior Water Prize,” according to the press release (9/7).

In related news, TIME’s “Ecocentric” blog contrasts the “ambitious venture of exporting water from Alaska to India” as a way to supply water to regions facing increasing shortages to other strategies. According to the blog, “S2C Global Systems, which owns a 50% stake in the subsidiary Alaska Resource Management, intends to start shipping billions of gallons of fresh water from Blue Lake in Sitka, Alaska, to a coming-soon ‘World Water Hub’ in India, from which water will then be shipped again to water-poor nations around the Arabian Sea.”

The post includes details about how the water would be distributed, before noting “most of the planet’s fresh water is located near the poles, and most of the planet’s human beings are located on the equator. That makes for an alarming scarcity of access to water on our blue planet, and it’s only going to get scarcer as the global population is fixing to increase up to 50% over the next 50 years.” The blog post examines the need for governments to rethink strategies for water security, and points to the findings of a recent International Water Management Institute (IWMI) report that “estimates that some 500 million people across India and Africa would benefit with the simple, top-down restructuring of water resources.”

Collecting groundwater, of course, [is] not nearly as colorful a solution as a series of World Water Hubs,” the blog writes. “But improving local infrastructure for small scale farmers to manage their own water does offer them something that no privately owned water source ever could – a measure of control over their own destiny” (Mahr, 9/6).

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