This spring, water has been a hot topic across the world, including with government leaders, school children, the media, and many others. Discussion kicked off in advance of World Water Day, which, since March 22, 1992, has been designated by the United Nations General Assembly (U.N.) as a day to promote public awareness of water’s importance in our lives, including the need for conservation, preservation, and protection of water resources.
This year, World Water Day was monumental, as it marked the launch of the second International Decade for Action Water for Life”: 2005-2015. A U.N.-established program, it seeks to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. Since today there are a reported 1.1 billion people who lack safe water and 2.4 billion without appropriate sanitation – leading to more than 3 million deaths every year – this effort will take the collective strength of the U.N., governments, and various partners in the international community. But strides can be made, judging by past success. The first water decade was from 1981 to 1990, during which safe water was brought to more than 1 billion people and sanitation to almost 770 million.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, Together we can provide safe, clean water to all the world’s people. The world’s water resources are our lifeline for survival, and for sustainable development in the 21st century.” While the focus of these efforts will be international, much work is needed right here at home. According to the August 2004 report, Still Living Without the Basics in the 21st Century,” by the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, Inc., 0.64 percent of occupied households in the United States lack complete plumbing facilities (based on the 2000 U.S.
Census and other data sources). Statistically, this is a small number; yet when you consider that it represents 670,986 households or more than 1.7 million people without basic water and sanitation facilities, you realize that even the United States has significant obstacles to overcome.
As civil engineers, the water crisis across the world, as well as in our communities, takes on a different meaning altogether. We understand, with deeper clarity than most other citizens, the importance of water to public health, safety, and economic development. We design the treatment plants, the water distribution systems, and the wastewater collection systems that can ensure safe drinking water and effective sanitation. We monitor water quality in rivers, lakes, and streams. We work to ensure compliance with ever-stricter regulations.
We are working to guarantee a sustainable environment for future generations.
So be sure to do what you can personally to keep water a hot topic over the next several years by getting involved in policy decisions; educating the public, especially children; and maybe even by volunteering your time to organizations such as Water For People (www.waterforpeople.org), which is endorsed by the American Water Works Association and the Water Environment Federation, or Lifewater International (www.lifewater.org).
Let’s be proud of how civil engineers contribute to this Decade for Action: Water for Life.” And be sure to let me know if you feel you’ve made a difference; I’d like to share your story with your peers.
Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.