Global Water Meeting Initiates Unique Online Process to Get Public Input. 10,000 Volunteers Sought to Gather Opinions Around World.

Distributed in London, Toronto and Washington, D.C.

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(Telephone interviews are available March 5th and 6th with William Cosgrove, Vice President of the World Water Council, and Liliana Hisas, president of Universal Ecological Foundation. Please call 703-820-2244 to schedule an appointment.)

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In a unique program of global democracy called Water Voice Messenger, volunteers around the world are gathering opinions on water problems and solutions from any citizens who lack access to water, all of which will be sent via the Internet, fax or mail to the 3rd World Water Forum.

“The Water Voice Messenger program gives people all over the world the opportunity to have a direct impact on upcoming global decisions on local, national and international water issues,” says Hideaki Oda, Secretary General of the 3rd World Water Forum, to be held in Kyoto, Japan, March, 2003. “The website (http://www.worldwaterforum.org/voice/en/) for Water Voice Messenger provides a gateway to a truly democratic process. We are empowering any interested person to gather information on water problems and water solutions and address them directly to the policy makers who will formulate solutions for the Forum.”

The World Water Forum, held every three years in different countries, was created to address Earth’s growing water crisis, which is leading to immense problems in agriculture, industry, the environment and urban living. Some 1.2 billion people around the world lack access to safe water. Unless action is stepped up, the number of people without access to safe water will increase to 2.3 billion by 2025.

“We want to collect voices from not only people in small villages and other isolated regions but also from people who do not access the Internet,” Mr. Oda says. “The voices will be collected to be used at our Virtual Water Forum (online discussion groups) and various regional and international meetings, and then the voices will reflect to the ministerial declaration at the 3rd World Water Forum.”

The Forum is seeking at least 10,000 volunteers (” Water Voice” Messengers), each of whom is asked to conduct interviews with different people about water issues that directly affect their lives, make a record of those interviews, then send them via the Internet, by fax and by post to Forum tabulators.

Organizers of the Forum expect at least 100,000 direct observations and fresh ideas on water problems and water successes as seen by consumers. “People who sign up as volunteers can make a pro-active positive contribution for a better world,” says William Cosgrove, Vice President of the World Water Council, which is the sponsor of the World Water Forums, contrasting this attitude to some of the protestors who have been disrupting international meetings in recent years.

“I have been surprised at how powerful some of the submissions have been,” says Mr. Cosgrove. “The entries demonstrate that many people have strong opinions about water problems that directly affect their lives, and on solutions that can fix those problems. They will form a valuable base for the decision-makers at the 3rd World Water Forum.”

Liliana Hisas, president of Fundación Ecológica Universal (Universal Ecological Foundation), a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, says the Forum should be very important as a way to find concrete solutions from and for people. “We are seeing a lot of enthusiasm by NGOs globally to participate in this Forum,” Ms. Hisas says. “We communicate with many of them, and they feel that the Forum can make a real difference and that they will have input into the process.”

The 3rd World Water Forum is awarding monthly prizes such as tape recorders to the best submissions received each month. The winner in the month of January was Ms. Adalet Budak, from WWC Thematic Center, Ankara, Turkey. One of Ms. Budak’s submissions was: “Vegetable fields irrigated by sewage.”

Water Voice Messengers who submit the best over-all entries, according to an independent 3rd World Water Forum panel, will be invited to Japan in 2003 to present their findings to the Forum. People can go to the Messenger website and read all of the submissions.

Nearly 700 people have already filed submissions they have gathered to the web page. Some answers demonstrate detailed technical knowledge of the problems facing villagers and city residents.

“Water is crippling the people in my village of Orissa,” an Indian man told one volunteer. “This comes from many years of the high fluoride content in the water.” The volunteer reported that data collected from water tanks and tube wells showed that groundwater contains 8 to 13 milligrams of fluoride per liter (mg/l) of water, versus the World Health Organization (WHO) limit of 1.5 mg/l.

“Since the high content of fluoride in water adversely affects the blood and bone joints, most of the villagers of this region are suffering from floursis disease (which disrupts the synthesis of collagen and leads to the breakdown of collagen in bone, tendon, muscle, skin, cartilage, lungs, kidney and trachea) and are being crippled by muscular atrophy of the limbs. Others are struggling with head myalgia (generalized muscle pain often accompanied by influenza or other viral illness),” the volunteer reports.

“I feel uneasy giving a child tap water, because it is polluted with a chemical substance,” says a Japanese housewife who lives in Hyogo Prefecture. “Once you have a child, contamination of tap water is a worry. It is not only the chlorine smell. It is because I have heard that neither residual agricultural chemicals nor the fluorescence agent of synthetic detergent could be removed completely in a water purification plant. When I had my baby, in order to make milk, I purchased bottled water. Although my child now eats the same thing as his parents, and he also now drinks tap water, I don’t know if it is harmless, and it is a concern.”

A government inspector in the Eastern European country of Belarus expressed concern over what a pig farm was doing to the environment: “I know of a pig complex that consists of 80,000 pigs. It discharges 100 tons of solid manure and 700 tons of polluted water daily into the environment. That polluted water flows to sewage tanks, but the tanks are regularly overloaded and discharges into the Berezina River.”

“These messages are extremely valuable in demonstrating how aware people are about water, from college professors to rural villagers,” says Mr. Cosgrove. “They also personalize problems that water experts may not be aware of, whether in villages or in big cities.”

“This is how both the volunteers and the people who speak to them can have a major effect,” Mr. Oda adds. “For example, ‘water voices’ that focus on pollution issues, both their problems and solutions, will be collated and directed to sessions that deal with pollution, while those opinions that center on city water issues will be channeled to urban sessions, and so on. In this way, the water voices will have a direct line of communication to the various planning process that create proposals for the 3rd World Water Forum.”

The 3rd World Water Forum will highlight actions being taken to implement solutions to global water problems. Some 8,000 government officials, representatives of international organizations such as the World Bank, and UN organizations such as UNESCO and UNEP along with water experts, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the media are expected to attend the 2003 meeting.

The initial “water voices” returned to the Forum have demonstrated high levels of desperation on water issues in both cities and villages in developing countries, and in some developed countries as well.

“The most devastating truth is that arsenic poisoning in our water supply [in Bangladesh] has no effective treatment. Each day, several arsenic-poisoned people are dying in rural areas,” said a professor in Bangladesh. “In the early days [after independence], the Bangladesh Government and the UNICEF launched a program to install thousands of tube wells throughout the country to procure safe drinking water. At that time, the ground water was not tested systematically for arsenic and for the last 20-30 years water from shallow aquifers was extensively used for drinking water in rural areas,” the professor explained. “By 1993, it was found that, the ground water in the northern districts of Bangladesh is highly contaminated by highly soluble arsenic It is estimated that about 36 million people are consuming water with high arsenic content (above .05 mg/l).”

The professor called on the Water Forum to aid his country. “This problem needs international help to save millions of lives and hence I think World Water Forum should get focused in this problem.”

“At the present time, water problems occurring around the world constitute a global issue, threatening the very existence of human beings and, in fact, the entire ecosystem,” the Forum’s website says. “We, the present generation, should shoulder the responsibility for addressing these issues and finding sustainable solutions. We cannot pass the burden on to the next generation.”

Another professor, this time in Indonesia, wanted the Forum to know that the construction of three large dams has led to severe pollution of the local river: “There are three major dams along the Citarum River (in West Java, Indonesia), namely the Saguling (finished in 1986), Cirata (1988) and Jatiluhur (1966). However, since 1980, especially during the dry season, this river has them heavily polluted by domestic and industrial wastewater, and this condition has gradually hampered the function of the Saguling as a source of energy, domestic, and fishery water.”

Some respondents are happy enough just to have water piped into their homes, not expecting it to be safe to drink without treatment.

“The water situation in our area is good,” reports a woman in Dar es Salaam, capital of Tanzania. “We get enough tap water for domestic and gardening purposes. I usually boil drinking water in order to be safe from various diseases such as typhoid and diarrhea. I do this because the water quality is not guaranteed. Apart from the quality aspect, there is not any other problem.”

In one rural area of the same African country of Tanzania, a male farmer reports that less than half the people even have access to water, safe or not.

“The water supply is adequate only for about 45 percent of the total population living in the rural areas of Magu District, in Mwanza, Tanzania,” the farmer says. “The situation during the dry season becomes very difficult where the people are forced to travel about 8 to10 kilometers (4.5-to-6 miles) to look for drinking water. The water supply in urban areas is a little better where at least 54 percent of the population is accessible to piped water supply. All the water supply to the population is not safe for drinking. You need to boil it before drinking it. The major constraint is capital to finance improvements.”

Yet a young woman from Dar es Salaam, from a middle class family, reports that no water problems exist for her: “I usually get water anytime I want because there is water full time and my family can afford to pay the bills. There are no water problems here because the tap water which we use is clean and safe.”

“These three examples from Tanzania reflect a pattern of water problems that exist in many developing countries,” says Mr. Cosgrove. “In cities, the wealthy and middle class have access to a good water system that supplies safe water, while many urban poor are not connected, having to pay 10 times or even 100 times more for water that is not treated in any way. Rural people have even more trouble, reflected in the need to walk many miles to reach a water supply.”

Some responses demonstrate acute awareness by young people that they are inheriting a damaged world.

“The way in which we treated our beautiful waters is not very pleasant and is destroying Mother Nature,” says a male student in Speighstown, Barbados. “Have you ever seen the river channel of Speighstown? You’ll see it is full of sweepings and it’s green and putrid. We must do something, because we are damaging our island and ourselves. This does not show anything well of us. It means that we did not worry about us, about our families, about our country or about people who live in Barbados.”

A professor from another Caribbean island nation, Trinidad and Tobago, warns about pollution from the oil industry: “We can find polluting agents related to the activities of oil industry in the mud and the water, which comes from the transport ships or the oil storage tanks,” the professor says. “They are toxic for the fish, plankton and the mangrove forest.”

An Indian man laments the unplanned urbanization that has destroyed two rivers he once drank from: “Shillong, a picturesque hill resort and the capital city of Meghalaya state in northeastern India, is drained by two rivers, namely, Umkhrah and Umshirpi. They once had sparkling clear water that could be drunk straight from the stream without any treatment. Sadly enough, unplanned urbanization accompanied by the cropping up of slums along the stream banks have now degraded their water quality so much that in most places, their water is unfit for human use. The water has high chemical content, and is contaminated with fecal coli bacteria. Thus, a lack of human concern has poisoned and strangled these once beautiful ‘songs of nature.'”

Forum staff members are cataloguing all entries and will direct submissions towards the appropriate working groups that are preparing sessions for the World Water Forum. As a Brazilian student says: “A global effort dealing with water issues is necessary. Water is a very critical subject. People in general are very irresponsible when dealing with water matters. The way to solve water problems is education and awareness. Many important measures are being taken by the government and private companies together with the population in order to reduce devastation in the southeast of Brazil. This kind of action is very helpful and it would be great if it can be duplicated around the world. The Water would give us thanks.”

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