Last night MCHIP partnered with the United Nations Association (UNA) and the UN Foundation to host “Water: Oil of the 21st Century,” with a diverse panel and insightful questions about water in today’s world. Moving into the future, the panelists agreed, water and sanitation will be necessary and essential to achieving many of the health and development goals of the U.S. and larger global community. They stressed that we must move away from number counting toward sustainability, identifying interventions, like some of the community-based programs championed by MCHIP and its partners, which will last far beyond the end of a grant.
“Water is not a ‘them’ issue; water is a ‘we’ issue,” said Dr. Schwab, Director of the Global Water Program at The Johns Hopkins University, in his opening presentation. Other panelists included MCHIP Director Dr. Koki Agarwal, Food and Water Watch International Policy Director Darcey O’Callaghan, and World Bank Senior Water Resources Specialist Dr. Winston Yu.
The presenters provided information that highlighted a key fact—that water is a limited resource essential to life and health. The WHO estimates an individual needs 50 to 100 liters of water for daily life (drinking, bathing, cooking, sanitation); in the U.S., we typically use at least 100 liters of water each day just to flush our toilets. We have the gift of going to the tap any time for a cool drink, knowing that the water we are drawing is potable and clean. And, as Ms. O’Callaghan noted, all water is local. Those living in water-challenged areas feel more pressure to find ways to ensure a sustainable water supply than those living in areas with consistent supplies of clean water.
Two themes were common to all four presentations: the challenge of water security, and the close relationship between water and health. According to the WHO, diarrhea kills more children every year than AIDS, measles and malaria combined. MCHIP and many of its PVO/NGO partners in the Child Survival and Health Grants Program work to develop systems for treating children with diarrhea, to reduce that mortality burden, and to prevent related illnesses in the first place through programs that promote handwashing and other water and sanitation practices. Dr. Agarwal highlighted the work MCHIP has done in this area, including the promotion of the return of “oral rehydration therapy corners” at health facilities, where children suffering from diarrhea can be treated.
The attention and financial investment of governments throughout North America and Europe at the turn of the 19th century laid the foundation for our complex and vast plumbing and sanitation systems, and are partly responsible for the near elimination of water born disease in the U.S. Moreover, funding for maintaining these systems has drastically increased over time. Investments by governments throughout the developing world—with the support and collaboration of development programs and other international institutions—could help to bring the same transformation to many of the countries where children still unnecessarily die from diarrheal diseases every day.
You can view photos from the event on our Facebook page. And while you’re there, “like” us to stay in the loop about more exciting events like this!