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Finding Solutions to
Fresh Water Scarcity

Global Student Summit

Participant Guide
Water Sustainability:
Finding Solutions to Fresh Water Scarcity


Participant Guide

The mission of Global Student Summit is to empower young people to view themselves as
interconnected global citizens who are expected to lead their communities, nation, and world
on issues that affect us all.


Kijana’s mission is to promote and cultivate youth empowerment through educational

development, cross-cultural dialogue, and sustainable and environmentally-friendly economic
growth among rural Kenyan school communities and American school communities.

I had a terrible dream last night

that woke me in cold sweat.

But it wasn’t your typical horror fright

that leaves gentler thoughts in debt.

I saw oceans and rivers and streams disappear

to places unheard of, not the sky or the dirt.

Suddenly a wrench had been thrown in the gears

everything pretty was now ugly and hurt.

The plants and the trees and the clouds up above

nothing was there, no snakes and no birds.

Everything gone, even music and love

banished away like unpleasant words.

Now alone by myself, no one in range of my shout

I closed my eyes but could not see even you.

I wanted to cry but nothing came out

and before I realized it, I was gone too.

- Unknown
The World



The United States of America


Table of Contents
The World ........................................................................................................................................ i
Africa ................................................................................................................................................ii
The United States of America .........................................................................................................iv
Florida ..............................................................................................................................................v

Campaign Calendar ....................................................................................................................... viii

Welcome ....................................................................................................................................... 1
Objectives................................................................................................................................ 1
Expectations of Participation .................................................................................................. 1
Ground Rules for Videoconferences ....................................................................................... 2

Unit 1: Why Water? ..................................................................................................................... 3

Water is Life ................................................................................................................................ 4
Reflections on Water and Oil ...................................................................................................... 9
The Global Water Crisis............................................................................................................. 10
Reflection .................................................................................................................................. 13
Videoconference 1 .................................................................................................................... 14

Unit 2: Exploring Water ............................................................................................................ 15

Water 101 ................................................................................................................................. 16
Profiles in Water ....................................................................................................................... 20
Water in Kenya...................................................................................................................... 20
Water in Florida (United States) ........................................................................................... 22
Reflection .................................................................................................................................. 26
Local Immersion Mission .......................................................................................................... 26

Unit 3: The Bigger Picture ......................................................................................................... 27
The Big Melt .............................................................................................................................. 28
The Burden of Thirst ................................................................................................................. 36
Reflection .................................................................................................................................. 43
Videoconference 2 .................................................................................................................... 44

Unit 4: Leading Your Community ............................................................................................ 45

Blue Planet Blues ...................................................................................................................... 46
Reflection .................................................................................................................................. 51
World Water Day ...................................................................................................................... 52

Unit 5: Finding Solutions........................................................................................................... 53

Considering Desalination .......................................................................................................... 54
Can Ocean Desalination Solve the World’s Water Shortage? .............................................. 54
Desalination .......................................................................................................................... 55
The Debate Over Water Privatization ....................................................................................... 57
Private Water Saves Lives ..................................................................................................... 57
Water Privatization Conflicts ................................................................................................ 59
The Simplest Solution – Conservation ...................................................................................... 61
The Last Drop ........................................................................................................................ 61
Ideas in Practice ........................................................................................................................ 65
Reflection .................................................................................................................................. 69
Videoconference 3 .................................................................................................................... 70

Unit 6: Leading Your Nation and World ................................................................................. 71

Writing a Policy Proposal .......................................................................................................... 72
Videoconference 4 .................................................................................................................... 74

Campaign Calendar

KENYAN AND AMERICAN August and September 2010


VIDEOCONFERENCE #1: Saturday, September 25, 2010


LOCAL IMMERSION MISSION: Saturday, October 23, 2010


VIDEOCONFERENCE #2: Saturday, November 20, 2010


WORLD WATER DAY: Tuesday, March 22, 2011


VIDEOCONFERENCE #3: Saturday, April 2, 2011


POLICY PROPOSALS DRAFTED Wednesday, May 11, 2011

VIDEOCONFERENCE #4: Saturday, May 14, 2011




Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative is excited to welcome you as a participant in Global
Student Summit, a program uniting Kenyan and American secondary students in cross-cultural
dialogue and deliberation surrounding issues of global importance. Over the next nine months,
you are asked to lend your voice to this interactive, solutions-based campaign, titled, “Water
Sustainability: Finding Solutions to Fresh Water Scarcity.”

Along with your counterparts both in-country and across the globe, you will:

Learn the issues related to the planet’s dwindling supply and lack of accessibility to
clean, fresh water.

Explore and experience water resources in your region, and learn about the challenges
they face.

Deliberate solutions to the world’s water-related problems.

Become an educator and advocate for global water issues within your community by
undertaking a solutions-based empowerment campaign on World Water Day.

Promote solutions for sustainable, accessible, clean, fresh water resources by issuing
comprehensive policy proposals to national and international leaders.

Expectations of Participation
Along with a dedication to hard work, productive dialogue, and effective collaboration, you will
be able to successfully achieve each of these objectives by following along in the pages to
come. Each of the six units in this Participant Guide feature important readings that will help
you make meaningful contributions to this campaign, including each of the activities along the
way – four cross-cultural videoconferences, a local immersion mission, your efforts on World
Water Day, and the writing and submission of your policy proposals to national and
international leaders. It is essential to complete each unit’s readings in a timely fashion in
advance of the videoconference or other activity that they are designed to lead up to. Also
leave yourself time to consider the reflection questions at the end of each unit. It is not
necessary to write out responses to each question, but you are encouraged to discuss your
reactions to them with your in-country classmates and even with your collaborators across the
globe during videoconferences.

Ground Rules for Videoconferences
In order to make the videoconferences as productive, efficient, and meaningful as possible, we
will adhere to the following ground rules:

Stand & Declare – When contributing your ideas or thoughts to the discussion, please
stand and declare your name before making your comment. This practice is important
for a few reasons. First, it makes it clear as to who has the floor to speak; second, it
helps us learn each others’ names; and third, in addition to being a courteous practice, it
forces you to literally “stand behind” your words and your name, helping us all take
more responsibility for our contributions.

NOSTUESO – This is an acronym meaning, “No One Speaks Twice Until Everyone Speaks
Once.” By striving to practice this principle, we can ensure that everyone’s voice can be
heard. This is a general guideline; no one can be forced to speak, but we must at least
invite all participants to speak. No one may dominate the conversation.

Active Listening – The only way we can learn from each other is by truly seeking to
understand each others’ experiences and opinions. When another participant is
speaking, seek to actively listen to his or her comment. Active listening means refraining
from forming a response in your head to a comment while the comment is still being
made. This can be a difficult practice, but it is crucial to understanding.

Moccasins – A Native American Cherokee prayer says, “Oh Great Spirit, grant that I may
never criticize my brother or sister until I have walked the trail of life in their
moccasins.” When you disagree with a comment or have trouble understanding a fellow
participants’ life experience, reserve criticism until you can understand it better.
Learning to “moccasin” – putting yourself in the shoes of another person – is a valuable
leadership skill that will help you reach common ground.

Unit 1: Why Water?
“Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion
of the events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation. . . .It
is from numberless diverse acts of courage … [and] ... belief that human history is shaped. Each
time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against
injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different
centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest
walls of oppression and resistance.”

- Robert F. Kennedy

Why is water important to human life, and why should we spend the next nine months
discussing it? The answer lies within the following pages of Unit 1, but it is your responsibility to
give it a voice. Like many of the world’s most pressing problems, the challenge confronting us in
the face of global fresh water scarcity is widely understood, but very few people choose to take
responsibility in addressing it.

This is your invitation to take the first step.

In the following pages, you will read a selection of articles and facts about global fresh water
scarcity, each one meant to prepare you as an advocate for water sustainability.

First, you will read Barbara Kingsolver’s article, Fresh Water, which ruminates on our
human connection to water and the neglect we have shown in our ongoing relationship
with it.

Next, you will read a selection from David Orr’s Reflections on Water and Oil, which
compares and contrasts the two liquids that humans rely on most.

Finally, you are asked to struggle with some sobering statistics provided by in
their fact sheet, The Global Water Crisis.

Once you have read these three selections, prepare yourself for Videoconference 1 by
reflecting on what each has to say.


The amount of moisture on Earth has not changed. The water the dinosaurs drank millions of
years ago is the same water that falls as rain today. But will there be enough for a more
crowded world?

By Barbara Kingsolver
Photograph by Frans Lanting

We keep an eye out for wonders, my daughter and I, every morning as we walk down our farm
lane to meet the school bus. And wherever we find them, they reflect the magic of water: a
spider web drooping with dew like a rhinestone necklace. A rain-colored heron rising from the
creek bank. One astonishing morning, we had a visitation of frogs. Dozens of them hurtled up
from the grass ahead of our feet, launching themselves, white-bellied, in bouncing arcs, as if
we'd been caught in a downpour of amphibians. It seemed to mark the dawning of some new
aqueous age. On another day we met a snapping turtle in his primordial olive drab armor.
Normally this is a pond-locked creature, but some murky ambition had moved him onto our
gravel lane, using the rainy week as a passport from
our farm to somewhere else.
Water is life. It makes up The little, nameless creek tumbling through our
two-thirds of our bodies, just like hollow holds us in thrall. Before we came to southern
the map of the world; our vital Appalachia, we lived for years in Arizona, where a
fluids are saline, like the ocean. permanent runnel of that size would merit a nature
preserve. In the Grand Canyon State, every license
The apple doesn’t fall far from
plate reminded us that water changes the face of the
the tree. land, splitting open rock desert like a peach, leaving
mile-deep gashes of infinite hue. Cities there function
like space stations, importing every ounce of fresh water from distant rivers or fossil aquifers.
But such is the human inclination to take water as a birthright that public fountains still may
bubble in Arizona's town squares and farmers there raise thirsty crops. Retirees from rainier
climes irrigate green lawns that impersonate the grasslands they left behind. The truth
encroaches on all the fantasies, though, when desert residents wait months between rains,
watching cacti tighten their belts and roadrunners skirmish over precious beads from a dripping
garden faucet. Water is life. It's the briny broth of our origins, the pounding circulatory system
of the world, a precarious molecular edge on which we survive. It makes up two-thirds of our
bodies, just like the map of the world; our vital fluids are saline, like the ocean. The apple
doesn't fall far from the tree.

Even while we take Mother Water for granted, humans understand in our bones that she is the
boss. We stake our civilizations on the coasts and mighty rivers. Our deepest dread is the threat
of having too little moisture—or too much. We've lately raised the Earth's average temperature
by .74°C (1.3°F), a number that sounds inconsequential. But these words do not: flood, drought,
hurricane, rising sea levels, bursting levees. Water is
the visible face of climate and, therefore, climate
change. Shifting rain patterns flood some regions Water is the visible face of
and dry up others as nature demonstrates a grave climate and, therefore, climate
physics lesson: Hot air holds more water molecules change.
than cold.

The results are in plain sight along pummeled coasts from Louisiana to the Philippines as super-
warmed air above the ocean brews superstorms, the likes of which we have never known. In
arid places the same physics amplify evaporation and drought, visible in the dust-dry farms of
the Murray-Darling River Basin in Australia. On top of the Himalaya, glaciers whose meltwater
sustains vast populations are dwindling. The snapping turtle I met on my lane may have been
looking for higher ground. Last summer brought us a string of floods that left tomatoes blighted
on the vine and our farmers needing disaster relief for the third consecutive year. The past
decade has brought us more extreme storms than ever before, of the kind that dump many
inches in a day, laying down crops and utility poles and great sodden oaks whose roots cannot
find purchase in the saturated ground. The word "disaster" seems to mock us. After enough
repetitions of shocking weather, we can't remain indefinitely shocked.

How can the world shift beneath our feet? All we know is founded on its rhythms: Water will
flow from the snowcapped mountains, rain and sun will arrive in their proper seasons. Humans
first formed our tongues around language, surely, for the purpose of explaining these constants
to our children. What should we tell them now? That "reliable" has been rained out, or died of
thirst? When the Earth seems to raise its own voice to the pitch of a gale, have we the ears to

A world away from my damp hollow, the Bajo Piura Valley is a great bowl of the driest Holocene
sands I've ever gotten in my shoes. Stretching from coastal, northwestern Peru into southern
Ecuador, the 14,000-square-mile Piura Desert is home to many endemic forms of thorny life.
Profiles of this eco-region describe it as dry to drier, and Bajo Piura on its southern edge is what
anyone would call driest. Between January and March it might get close to an inch of rain,
depending on the whims of El Niño, my driver explained as we bumped over the dry bed of the
Río Piura, "but in some years, nothing at all." For hours we passed through white-crusted fields
ruined by years of irrigation and then into eye-burning valleys beyond the limits of endurance

for anything but sparse stands of the deep-rooted Prosopis pallida, arguably nature's most arid-
adapted tree. And remarkably, some scattered families of Homo sapiens.

They are economic refugees, looking for land that costs nothing. In Bajo Piura they find it,
although living there has other costs, and fragile drylands pay their own price too, as people
exacerbate desertification by cutting anything living for firewood. What brought me there, as a
journalist, was an innovative reforestation project. Peruvian conservationists, partnered with
the NGO Heifer International, were guiding the population into herding goats, which eat the
protein-rich pods of the native mesquite and disperse its seeds over the desert. In the shade of
a stick shelter, a young mother set her dented pot on a dung-fed fire and showed how she
curdles goat's milk into white cheese. But milking goats is hard to work into her schedule when
she, and every other woman she knows, must walk about eight hours a day to collect water.

Their husbands were digging a well nearby. They worked with hand trowels, a plywood form for
lining the shaft with concrete, inch by inch, and a
sturdy hand-built crank for lowering a man to the
bottom and sending up buckets of sand. A dozen Civilization has been slow to give
hopeful men in stained straw hats stood back to up on our myth of the Earth’s
let me inspect their work, which so far had infinite generosity. Rather grandly,
yielded only a mountain of exhumed sand, dry as
we have overdrawn our accounts.
dust. I looked down that black hole, then turned
and climbed the sand mound to hide my
unprofessional tears. I could not fathom this kind of perseverance and wondered how long
these beleaguered people would last before they'd had enough of their water woes and moved
somewhere else.

Five years later they are still bringing up dry sand, scratching out their fate as a microcosm of
life on this planet. There is nowhere else. Forty percent of the households in sub-Saharan Africa
are more than a half hour from the nearest water, and that distance is growing. Australian
farmers can't follow the rainfall patterns that have shifted south to fall on the sea. A salmon
that runs into a dam when homing in on her natal stream cannot make other plans. Together
we dig in, for all we're worth.

Since childhood I've heard it's possible to look up from the bottom of a well and see stars, even
in daylight. Aristotle wrote about this, and so did Charles Dickens. On many a dark night the
vision of that round slip of sky with stars has comforted me. Here's the only problem: It's not
true. Western civilization was in no great hurry to give up this folklore; astronomers believed it
for centuries, but a few of them eventually thought to test it and had their illusions dashed by
simple observation.

Civilization has been similarly slow to give up on our myth of the Earth's infinite generosity.
Declining to look for evidence to the contrary, we just knew it was there. We pumped aquifers
and diverted rivers, trusting the twin lucky stars of unrestrained human expansion and endless
supply. Now water tables plummet in countries
harboring half the world's population. Rather
grandly, we have overdrawn our accounts.
Ecuador has become the first
nation on Earth to put the rights In 1968 the ecologist Garrett Hardin wrote a paper
of nature in its constitution so called "The Tragedy of the Commons," required
reading for biology students ever since. It addresses
that rivers and forests are not
the problems that can be solved only by "a change in
simply property but maintain
human values or ideas of morality" in situations
their own right to flourish. where rational pursuit of individual self-interest
leads to collective ruin. Cattle farmers who share a
common pasture, for example, will increase their herds one by one until they destroy the
pasture by overgrazing. Agreeing to self-imposed limits instead, unthinkable at first, will
become the right thing to do. While our laws imply that morality is fixed, Hardin made the point
that "the morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed."
Surely it was no sin, once upon a time, to shoot and make pies of passenger pigeons.

Water is the ultimate commons. Watercourses once seemed as boundless as those pigeons that
darkened the sky overhead, and the notion of protecting water was as silly as bottling it. But
rules change. Time and again, from New Mexico's antique irrigation codes to the UN
Convention on International Watercourses, communities have studied water systems and
redefined wise use. Now Ecuador has become the first nation on Earth to put the rights of
nature in its constitution so that rivers and forests are not simply property but maintain their
own right to flourish. Under these laws a citizen might file suit on behalf of an injured
watershed, recognizing that its health is crucial to the common good. Other nations may follow
Ecuador's lead. Just as legal systems once reeled to comprehend women or former slaves as
fully entitled, law schools in the U.S. are now reforming their curricula with an eye to
understanding and acknowledging nature's rights.

On my desk, a glass of water has caught the afternoon light, and I'm still looking for wonders.
Who owns this water? How can I call it mine when its fate is to run through rivers and living
bodies, so many already and so many more to come? It is an ancient, dazzling relic, temporarily
quarantined here in my glass, waiting to return to its kind, waiting to move a mountain. It is the
gold standard of biological currency, and the good news is that we can conserve it in countless
ways. Also, unlike petroleum, water will always be with us. Our trust in Earth's infinite
generosity was half right, as every raindrop will run to the ocean, and the ocean will rise into

the firmament. And half wrong, because we are not important to water. It's the other way
around. Our task is to work out reasonable ways to survive inside its boundaries. We'd be wise
to fix our sights on some new stars. The gentle nudge of evidence, the guidance of science, and
a heart for protecting the commons: These are the tools of a new century. Taking a wide-eyed
look at a watery planet is our way of knowing the stakes, the better to know our place.

Originally published in National Geographic Magazine, April 2010

Available online at


What sense can we make of water? We need look no further than our
own bodies and the rich cultures they have risen from.

By David Orr

The meaning of water might best be approached in comparison with that other liquid to which
we in the twentieth century are beholden: oil. Water as rain, ice, lakes, rivers, and seas has
shaped our landscape. But oil has shaped the modern mindscape, with its fascination and
addition to speed and accumulation. The modern world is in some ways a dialogue between oil
and water. Water makes life possible, while oil is toxic to most life. Water in its pure state is
clear; oil is dark. Water dissolves; oil congeals. Water has inspired great poetry and literature.
Our language is full of allusions to springs, depths, currents, rivers, seas, rain, mist, dew, and
snowfall. To a great extent our language is about water and people in relation to water. We
think of time flowing like a river. We cry oceans of tears. We ponder the wellsprings of thought.
Oil, on the contrary, has had no such effect on our
language. To my knowledge, it has given rise to no
poetry, hymns, or great literature, and probably to no What is the meaning of
flights of imagination other than those of pecuniary water? One might as well ask,
accumulation. “What does it mean to be
Our relation to water is fundamentally somatic, which is human?”
to say it is experienced bodily. The brain literally floats on
a cushion of water. The body consists mostly of water. We play in water, fish in it, bathe in it,
and drink it. Some of us were baptized in it. We like the feel of salt spray in our faces and the
smell of rain that ends a dry summer heat wave. The sound of mountain water heals what
hurts. We are mostly water and have an affinity for it that transcends our ability to describe it in
mere words.

What is the meaning of water? One might as well ask, “What does it mean to be human?” The
answer may be found in our relation to water, the mother of life. When the waters again run
clear and their life is restored, we might see ourselves reflected whole.

This selection from “Reflections on Water and Oil” was originally published in David Orr’s book
“Earth in Mind,” by Island Press in 1994.


Nearly one billion people – about one in eight – do not have access to clean drinking water.
More than double that, 2.5 million, do not have access to a toilet.

Drinking water
3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease.

43% of water-related deaths are due to diarrhea.

84% of water-related deaths are in children ages 0 – 14.

98% of water-related deaths occur in the developing world.

The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims
through guns.

At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering
from a water-related disease.

An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the typical person living
in a developing country slum uses in a whole day.

About a third of people without access to an improved water source live on less than $1
a day. More than two thirds of people without an improved water source live on less
than $2 a day.

Poor people living in the slums often pay 5-10 times more per liter of water than
wealthy people living in the same city.

Without food a person can live for weeks, but without water you can expect to live only
a few days.

2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, including 1.2 billion people who
have no facilities at all.

The majority of the illness in the world is caused by fecal matter.

Lack of sanitation is the world’s biggest cause of infection.

At any one time, more than half of the poor in the developing world are ill from causes
related to hygiene, sanitation and water supply.

88% of cases of diarrhea worldwide are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate

sanitation or insufficient hygiene.

Only 62% of the world’s population has access to improved sanitation – defined as a
sanitation facility that ensures hygienic separation of human excreta from human

Of the 60 million people added to the world’s towns and cities every year, most occupy
impoverished slums and shanty-towns with no sanitation facilities.

Impacts on children
Every 15 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease.

Children in poor environments often carry 1,000 parasitic worms in their bodies at any

1.4 million children die as a result of diarrhea each year.

90% of all deaths caused by diarrheal diseases are children under 5 years of age, mostly
in developing countries.

Impacts on women
 Millions of women and children spend several hours a day collecting water from distant,
often polluted sources.

 A study by the International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) of community water and
sanitation projects in 88 communities found that projects designed and run with the full
participation of women are more sustainable and effective than those that do not. This
supports an earlier World Bank study that found that women’s participation was
strongly associated with water and sanitation project effectiveness.

Evidence shows that women are responsible for half of the world’s food production (as
opposed to cash crops) and in most developing countries, rural women produce
between 60-80 percent of the food. Women also have an important role in establishing

sustainable use of resources in small-scale fishing communities, and their knowledge is
valuable for managing and protecting watersheds and wetlands.

Impacts on productivity
On average, every US dollar invested in water and sanitation provides an economic
return of eight US dollars.

An investment of US $11.3 billion per year is needed to meet the drinking water and
sanitation target of the Millennium Development Goals, yielding a total payback for US
$84 billion a year.

Other estimated economic benefits of investing in drinking-water and sanitation:

o 272 million school attendance days a year
o 1.5 billion healthy days for children under five years of age
o Values of deaths averted, based on discounted future earnings, amounting to US$
3.6 billion a year
o Health-care savings of US $7 billion a year for health agencies and US $340 million
for individuals

Statistics provided by (, an international nonprofit organization

promoting access to clean fresh water around the world.


Fresh Water by Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver writes about many of her own personal experiences and encounters with
water, including myths, stories, and spiritual interactions. Think for a moment about
your own daily experiences as a human being on this planet. How does water fit into
your life? How do you interact with water? Were you baptized in it? Do you swim in it?
Do you have certain memories of listening to rain fall outside your window as a young
child? What personal stories about water can you tell?

What is your reaction to Kingsolver’s discussion of Ecuador becoming the first nation to
provide rights to the environment in its constitution? What does your country’s
constitution say about the environment?

What does Kingsolver mean when she says “we are not important to water”?

Reflections of Water and Oil by David Orr

What do you make of Orr’s comparison between water and oil? Is it fair?

What do you think Orr means when he says, “The modern world is in some ways a
dialogue between oil and water”? What do you think the current state of that dialogue
would sound or look like?

The Global Water Crisis fact sheet by

What is your reaction to these facts about the effects of fresh water scarcity and poor
sanitation? Are there any specific statistics that apply to your own living conditions or
apply to people you know? Please share your stories.


Be prepared to...
Introduce yourself to your collaborators and counterparts on the other side of the
Share your personal stories and experiences with water, and to listen to others’ stories.
Step outside your comfort zone as we begin to confront the disparities between water
quality and accessibility in Kenya and America.

Stand Up, Sit Down
Videos: Water on the Other Side of the World

Unit 2: Exploring Water
“A thousand hearings isn’t worth one seeing, and a thousand seeings isn’t worth one doing.”

- A Vietnamese elder

If the purpose of Unit 1 was to ask why, then the purpose of Unit 2 is to ask where, what, who,
and how. In order to promote solutions to global fresh water scarcity, it is necessary to have a
firm understanding of Earth’s water resources – the system that your solutions must operate

Where does the water we drink come from? What is the health of those sources of water? Who
else relies on that water? How has human activity impacted the Earth’s water supply? These
are the questions we must seek to answer before we may presume that any effort we make to
solve our global water problems will be fruitful.

In the coming pages, we will start this process by reading the following:

Water 101, featuring information from, which gives a general overview
of the Earth’s water resources, including their locations and conditions.

And Profiles in Water, which contains examinations of water resources in Kenya and the
United States.

But no amount of reading about our water resources will enable us to fully understand them.
For this reason, we must compliment our reading with a hands-on, in-person exploration of the
water we use and depend on every day. To conclude this unit, you will participate in a Local
Immersion Mission, a trip to a local body of water alongside your in-country collaborators to
experience, appreciate, learn about, and contribute to the health of the water.

W ATER 101

The following overview of the Earth’s water resources is published by, a website
that provides information and research on environmental topics.

Where and in what forms is water available on Earth?

The world’s water exists naturally in different forms and locations: in the air, on the surface,
below the ground and in the oceans.

Just 2.5% of the Earth’s water is freshwater, and most is frozen in glaciers and ice sheets. About
96% of all liquid freshwater can be found underground. The remaining small fraction is on the
surface or in the air.

Knowing how water cycles through the environment can help in determining how much water
is available in different parts of the world. The Earth’s water cycle is the global mechanism by
which water moves from the air to the Earth (precipitation) and eventually back to the
atmosphere (evaporation).

The principal natural components of this cycle are precipitation, infiltration into the soil, runoff
on the surface, groundwater discharge to surface waters and the oceans, and
evapotranspiration from water bodies, the soil, and plants.

“Blue water”— the water in rivers, lakes, and aquifers— can be distinguished from “green
water” — which feeds plants and crops, and which is subsequently released into the air. This
distinction may help managers focus on those areas which green water feeds and passes
through, such as farms, forests, and wetlands.

How does water move from the atmosphere to the ground and back?
About 10% of the Earth’s freshwater that is neither frozen nor underground is found in the
atmosphere. Precipitation, in the form of rain or snow, for instance, is an important form of
available freshwater. About 40% of precipitation has previously evaporated from the oceans;
the rest from land. The amount of precipitation varies greatly around the world, from less than
100 mm a year in desert climates to over 3,400 mm a year in tropical settings.

In temperate climates, about a third of precipitation returns to the atmosphere through

evaporation, a third filters into the ground and replenishes groundwater and the remainder
flows into water bodies. The drier the climate, the higher the proportion of precipitation that
returns to the atmosphere and the lower the proportion that replenishes groundwater.

A large part of the freshwater that returns to the atmosphere passes through soil and plants.
Reliable figures are available only for some regions. Soil moisture is important for plant growth.
Finding out how much moisture soil contains is important for such activities as farming and
“river-flow forecasting”, and for understanding climate and natural and water systems. Satellite
data are increasingly complementing measurements of soil moisture taken on the ground to
provide a broader and more up-to-date picture to decision-makers.

How much freshwater is

found at the Earth’s
About three-quarters of the
world’s freshwater is frozen in
ice sheets and glaciers. Most
remains inaccessible, located in
the Arctic, Antarctica or
Greenland. Land-based glaciers
and permanent snow and ice,
however, supply water in many
countries, releasing water in
amounts that vary seasonally
and over longer time periods.
Because of climate change,
glaciers are now being more
closely monitored.

Surface waters, including lakes,

ponds, reservoirs, rivers,
streams and wetlands hold only
a small volume of the Earth’s
total fresh water (0.4%). Still
they represent about 80% of
the renewable surface water
and groundwater that is
available in a given year. These
water bodies perform many
functions in the environment,
and provide people with the prime source of drinking water, energy and recreation, as well as a
means of irrigation and transport.

Lakes and other reservoirs counteract fluctuations in river flow from one season to the next
because they store large amounts of water. Lakes contain by far the largest amount of fresh
surface water. But the hydrology of only about 60% of the largest lakes has been studied in
detail, leaving much to be learned.

River basins are a useful “natural unit” for the management of water resources, though they
often extend across national borders. International river basins have drainage areas covering
about 45% of the Earth’s land surface (excluding the polar regions). Some of the largest basins
are the Amazon, which carries 15% of all water returning to the oceans, and the Congo-Zaire
Basin, which carries one-third of all river water in Africa.

River flows can vary greatly from one season to the next and from one climatic region to
another. In tropical regions, large flows are witnessed year round, whereas in drylands, rivers
are often ephemeral and only flow periodically after a storm. Drylands make up about 40% of
the world’s land area and have only 2% of all water runoff.

Past data records for river flow and water levels help to predict yearly or seasonal variations,
though it is difficult to make accurate longer-term forecasts. Some records in industrialized
countries go back up 150 to 200 years. By contrast, many developing countries started keeping
records only recently and data quality is often poor.

Wetlands, including swamps, bogs, marshes, and lagoons, cover 6% of the world’s land surface
and play a critical role in the conservation of water resources. Many wetlands were destroyed
or converted to other uses during the last century. Those that remain can play an important
role in supporting ecosystems, preventing floods, and increasing river flows.

How much freshwater can be found underground?

Ninety-six percent of liquid fresh water can be found underground. Groundwater feeds springs
and streams, supports wetlands, helps keep land surfaces stable, and is a critical water

About 60% of the water that is taken from the ground is used for farming in arid and semi-arid
climates, and between 25% and 40% of the world’s drinking water comes from underground.
Hundreds of cities around the world, including half of the very largest, make significant use of
groundwater. This water can be especially useful during shortages of surface water.

Groundwater aquifers vary in terms of how much water they hold, their depth, and how quickly
they replenish themselves. The variations also depend on specific geological features.

Much of the water underground is replenished either very slowly or not at all, and is thus
termed “non-renewable”. The largest aquifers of non-renewable water are found in North

Africa, the Middle East, Australia, and Siberia. There is some debate about how and when to
use this water. Many aquifers that contain non-renewable groundwater resources are shared
by more than one country and need to be managed in common for the benefit of all
administrative entities concerned.

If the infiltration of precipitation recharges the aquifer, the groundwater is considered

“renewable” and can be used for irrigation, domestic and other purposes. While most
renewable groundwater is of a high quality and does not require treatment, it should be
analyzed before it is used to avoid possible health impacts. However, few countries measure
the quality of underground water or the rate at which it is being withdrawn. Monitoring is being
improved in Europe and India, but remains minimal in many developing countries, and is
deteriorating in many industrialized ones. This makes it hard to manage underground water
resources sustainably.

Originally published by in their article, “Scientific Facts on Water Resources.”

Available online at


Water in Kenya

This section and the paired images that follow illustrate the changes and threats to Kenya’s
fragile water sources. Kenya’s natural endowment of freshwater is already highly limited; the
annual renewable fresh water supplies represent 647 m3 per capita, which is significantly below
the 1,000 m3 per capita the United Nations classifies as chronically water-scarce. Population
growth alone will continue to reduce per capita water availability in the future so that by 2020,
it is expected to be only 359 m3 per capita.

Kenya’s water supplies are fed by rainfall, which is highly spatially variable, ranging from less
than 200 mm a year in the northern arid and semi-arid lands to 1,800 mm in the western
region. It exceeds 1,250 mm a year in only three per cent of the country’s area, but these
regions feed Kenya’s major rivers. Rainfall is also erratic and varies greatly throughout the year.
There are two distinct rainy seasons east of the Rift Valley: the “long rains” come from March
to May and the “short rains” from October to December. Major droughts and floods occur
regularly. Since 98 percent of Kenya’s crops are rain-fed, high rainfall variability is a significant
risk factor for most farmers. Rainfall variability will likely increase with climate change, further
straining the natural resource base of Kenya’s economy and its citizens’ livelihoods.

Water resources
Surface waters cover about two percent of Kenya and supply 20.2 billion m3 of the country’s
estimated 30.7 billion m3 of renewable water per year. The rest, about 14 percent of total
water resources, comes from groundwater and transboundary rivers.

The majority of Kenya’s lakes are in the Great East African Rift Valley and include closed and
open-basin systems. Most of the lakes are saline with the exception of Victoria, Naivasha, and
Baringo. Surface waters are fed by five “water towers”— Mount Kenya, the Aberdare Range,
the Mau Forest Complex, Mount Elgon, and the Cherangani Hills—representing the country’s
major drainage areas in the highland’s forested catchments.

Kenya’s water resources include its important wetlands, which cover about 3 to 4 percent of
the land and include coral reefs, marine inshore waters, mangroves, deltas, creeks, lake shores,
rivers, marshes, ponds, dams, and mountain bogs. Many communities rely on wetlands for
food, medicinal plants, firewood, and many other materials. Wetlands also provide ecosystem
services such as filtering and storing water, protecting coastlines from erosion, and as wildlife

Water demand and use
Agriculture uses just over three-quarters of the surface water withdrawn for human uses while
domestic and industrial withdrawals account for 17.2 and 3.7 percent, respectively. At the same
time as water availability has been decreasing and rainfall variability rises with climate change,
demand for water has also been growing. Total water withdrawal is estimated to be over 2.7
km3 but water demand is projected to increase withdrawals to 5.8 km3 by the year 2010. Only
two percent of Kenya’s croplands are irrigated, compared to the sub-Saharan average of 2.7
percent, and only 19 percent of land with irrigation potential is presently equipped with
irrigation systems. There are some 9,000 boreholes throughout the country to withdraw
groundwater. Given the age of many of them, most require rehabilitation.

Environmental challenges
Kenya’s 1992 National Development Plan noted that 33 sub-basins without perennial river flow
had an apparent water shortage and predicted that of 164 sub-basins with perennial river
flows, 90 will suffer from surface water deficit by 2010. Population pressures and the increased
pace and scale of human activities in watersheds are straining water supplies. Encroachment
into the forested areas that make up Kenya’s five “water towers” is seriously degrading the
catchment areas as trees are felled for fuel, new farming areas, settlements, and pastures. In
addition sediment loads are increasing due largely to poor land use practices in the catchments.
Every year, the Rivers Tana and Sabaki deposit several million tons of sediment. Sedimentation
seriously degrades various coastal resources and reduces the life of reservoirs.

Both surface and groundwaters receive urban pollution from wastewaters and sewage and
chemicals from agricultural runoff. As well, declining and degraded water supplies have led to
conflicts among different users, such as between pastoralists and farmers, upstream and
downstream users, humans and wildlife, among others. Invasive species are another
environmental problem associated with human impacts on water resources in Kenya. Some
lakes, especially Victoria and Naivasha, have been subject to the invasive water hyacinth, which
has choked off large parts of their surfaces, while the introduction of the Nile Perch in Lake
Victoria has affected species composition.

Population pressures and increased human activity in and around wetlands are transforming
them for commercial uses including agriculture, salt-panning, and fish farming, among others,
and they are being compromised by pollution from agricultural runoff, industries, and municipal
effluents that renders their waters unhealthy for humans and livestock. The following satellite
images provide examples of how some of the environmental changes described above are
affecting the country’s water sources.

This selection was originally published in 2009 by the United Nations Environmental Program in
their report, “Kenya: Atlas of Our Changing Environment”.

Water in Florida (United States)

Florida is blessed with water. Yet you cannot see most of Florida’s fresh water: it seeps beneath
the ground through sand and gravel and flows through cracks and channels in underlying
limestone. The amount of ground water under Florida’s forests, pastures, cities, marshes,
roads, schools and suburbs is mind-boggling: more than a quadrillion gallons. This is equivalent
to about one-fifth of the water in all five of the Great Lakes, 100 times as much water as in Lake
Meade on the Colorado River, and 30,000 times the daily flow to the sea of Florida’s 13 major
rivers. In fact, Florida has more available ground water in aquifers than any other state.

Florida also has abundant surface water in springs, rivers, lakes, bays and wetlands. Of the 84
first-magnitude springs (those that discharge water at a rate of 100 cubic feet per second or
more) in the United States, 33 are in Florida—more than in any other state. Within Florida’s
boundaries are approximately 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) of rivers and streams and 7,800
lakes. Although more than half of Florida’s original wetlands have been drained or developed,
the state still has vast and diverse wetlands. The Florida Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp
cover much of southern Florida, and some Florida wetland communities, such as mangrove
swamps and hydric (wet) hammocks, rarely occur in other states.

In Florida, ground water and surface water are connected, often in complicated and changing
ways that are invisible at the land’s surface. Lakes may disappear into sinkholes, springs may
bubble up through new breaks in underlying rocks, and water may flow one way at the land’s
surface and quite a different way underground. This is because much of Florida has what
geologists term a karst landscape. Karst landscapes are underlain by limestone (mostly calcium
carbonate), a soluble rock composed of shell fragments, limey mud and sand. Limestone is
easily dissolved by water charged with carbon dioxide (CO2). As rain falls, it mixes with CO2 in
the air. As it soaks through the ground’s surface, the water gathers more CO2 from decaying
plants. Water charged with CO2 forms a weak acid (carbonic acid) that reacts with limestone to
dissolve it. The name karst derives from the Slovenian kars, meaning rock, and was first used by
the Germans to describe a high plateau in Slovenia with numerous caves and disappearing
streams. Karst is now used to describe similar areas around the world. Well-developed karst
features may also be found in south-central Kentucky, the Yucatan peninsula, parts of Cuba
andPuerto Rico, southern China and western Malaysia, as well as in Florida. Rivers and streams
are few and even absent in most karst areas of the world. Because Florida has high water tables
and flat terrain, karst areas in Florida have more rivers and streams than karst areas elsewhere.

Florida's Water Cycle
An average of 150 billion gallons of rain falls each day in Florida. Another 26 billion gallons flow
into the state, mostly from rivers originating in Georgia and Alabama. Nearly 70 percent of the
rain (107 billion gallons) returns to the atmosphere through evaporation and plant transpiration
(evapotranspiration). The remainder flows to rivers or streams or seeps into the ground and
recharges aquifers. Each day in Florida, 2.7 billion gallons are incorporated into products or
crops, consumed by humans or livestock, or otherwise removed from the immediate
environment (consumptive use).

The rainy season in south Florida is in the summer and early fall, when thunderstorms occur
nearly every afternoon. The dry season is in the winter. In the United States, only portions of
Hawaii share this climate type. This tropical savanna climate is also found in nearly half of
Africa, parts of the Caribbean Islands, central and southern Brazil and southeast Asia. An
average of 135 centimeters (53 inches) of rain falls each year in Florida. Some areas, however,
receive considerably more, while some areas receive considerably less than this amount.
Wewahitchka in the Panhandle receives an average of 175 centimeters (69 inches) and Key
West receives only 102 centimeters (40 inches). Rainfall throughout the state varies
considerably from season to season and from year to year, as well as from place to place. The
variability of rainfall in Florida cannot be overemphasized: it is quite possible for it to rain on
one side of the street and not the other! Stations within the same city often record large
differences in the amount of rainfall. For instance, in the greater Miami area, Miami Beach
receives an average of 114 centimeters (45 inches) annually, and the Miami airport receives an
average of 143 centimeters (56 inches) annually. Many counties have distinct rainfall zones
based on Florida’s subtle geographic features, vegetation and water bodies.

In the Sunshine State, when it rains, it usually pours, and floods may result. Floods generally
occur in winter and early spring in northern Florida from heavy rain accompanying cold fronts.
In summer and fall, all of Florida is susceptible to flooding from thunderstorms and hurricanes.
Human activities can create environments prone to flooding. Practices that remove soil and
vegetation can increase an area’s vulnerability to flooding. In northern Florida, flooding usually
occurs along rivers. In southern Florida, flooding may occur in any low-lying area. Dikes, canals
and other stormwater systems have been built in south and southwest Florida to help prevent
flooding in developed areas. Although Florida is one of the wettest states in the nation, it is still
sometimes affected by droughts (extended periods of low rainfall). Moderate droughts occur
frequently, and severe droughts occur in some part of the state about every six years. During
droughts, when the level of fresh water in the ground is lowered, salt water may move into
freshwater portions of aquifers in a process known as saltwater intrusion. Because droughts
reduce recharge, they can have a major impact on the region’s groundwater supply. Since salt
water is heavier than fresh water, it occupies the lower portions of the aquifer. If the

freshwater level is lowered by pumping and not replaced by recharge, salt water can flow in or
rise up and contaminate underground freshwater supplies.

Florida’s Aquifers
Aquifers are underground rocks that hold water. In Florida, three aquifers are used for water
supply: the Floridan aquifer, the intermediate aquifer and the surfacial aquifer. In northwest
Florida, the surfacial aquifer is called the sand and gravel aquifer, and in southeast Florida it is
called the Biscayne aquifer. The Floridan aquifer has been called Florida’s rain barrel and is one
of the most productive aquifers in the world. Each day Floridians use about 2.5 billion gallons of
water from the Floridan aquifer. It underlies 250,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles)
in southern Alabama, southeastern Georgia, southern South Carolina and all of Florida. Over
most of Florida, the Floridan aquifer is covered by sand, clay or limestone that ranges in
thickness from a few feet in parts of west-central and north-central Florida to hundreds of feet
in southeastern Georgia, northeastern Florida, southeastern Florida and the westernmost

Within the aquifer, water may travel quickly or very slowly. In parts of the aquifer with caves
and large conduits, water may travel several miles in only a few hours. Where water-filled
spaces are small and underground routes convoluted, it may take days, weeks or even years for
water to travel the same distance. In the past several decades, increased pumping of ground
water has lowered water levels in the Floridan aquifer in several places in Florida and Georgia,
including the Panhandle, northeastern and southwestern Florida, and southeastern and coastal

Water is replaced in the Floridan aquifer by rainfall that soaks into the ground. This is referred
to as recharge. Recharge does not occur everywhere. In some places (mostly along the coasts
and south of Lake Okeechobee) water flows out of, rather than into, the aquifer. This is referred
to as discharge. In other areas, thick clay covers the aquifer and slows or stops the downward
flow of water. Areas of high recharge only occur in about 15 percent of the state and include
the well-drained sand ridges of central and west- central Florida. Sand is porous, which means
water can easily flow through it. Limiting intensive development in high recharge areas is
critical for maintaining water supplies: water cannot soak through pavement. In some parts of
Florida, the Floridan aquifer is not a suitable or drinkable source of fresh water. In some places,
it is too far below the surface; in other places, the water is salty. The surfacial sand and gravel
aquifer is the major source of fresh water in Escambia and Okaloosa counties in northwest
Florida, and the surfacial Biscayne aquifer is the major source of fresh water in Dade and
Broward counties in southeast Florida. Between the surfacial aquifers and the Floridan aquifer
in some parts of the state is the intermediate aquifer. This aquifer is an important source of

fresh water in Sarasota, Charlotte and Glades counties. The remainder of the state uses the
Floridan aquifer as its main source of drinking water.

This selection was originally published in “Florida: A Water Resources Manual from Florida’s
Water Management Districts,” a 2002 guide produced in collaboration by each of Florida’s
Water Management Districts.
Available online at


Water 101 culled from

Do you know where the water that you use every day to drink, bathe, clean, and cook
comes from?

How often do you think about where the water you use comes from? How often are you
forced to think about it?

Profiles in Water
What new information did you discover about your country’s water resources?

What similarities exist between Kenya and Florida’s water resources? What differences
are there?


Be prepared to...
Experience the water. View it, feel it, hear it, smell it, and if it is safe to, taste it.
Learn about the water, the challenges it faces, and how you can help sustain it.
Return the love. You would not be here if it weren’t for this water. Now it’s your turn to
contribute to its sustained health for the next seven generations.
Work with your fellow students to document the day with your FlipCam in order to
share your experiences with your counterpart delegation during Videoconference 2.

Water tour and presentation
Community service project
(Check with your faculty advisor for additional activities)

Unit 3: The Bigger Picture
“Ubuntu – I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.”

- Zulu Proverb

Because water is so critical to human life, this means that its quality and accessibility also has a
significant impact on the quality of our human lifestyles. Consider the Global Water Crisis fact
sheet that you read in Unit 1. While most of the statistics presented detailed the negative
effects water scarcity has on our physical health, it also discussed the negative effects water
scarcity has on our productivity, or in other words, our social health.

This examination of the social side effects caused by the scarcity of clean, fresh water is the
focus of Unit 3. For instance, if a young girl in Africa has to fetch water from a spring one hour
away from her home three times a day, what kind of effect does this have on her ability to
receive an adequate education? And what kind of effect does her lack of education have on the
healthy economic, artistic, technological, and social growth of her nation and world? These are
the questions we will confront as we take a look at The Bigger Picture.

In the following pages, embrace the questions raised by two articles:

The Big Melt by Brook Larmer, which looks through the eyes of farmer Jia Son at the
increased rate of glacial melting occurring in the Tibetan Plateau, and the spiritual and
economic distress it is causing.

And The Burden of Thirst by Tina Rosenberg, which accompanies a 25 year old Ethiopian
mother on her thrice-daily task of collecting water from a dirty river, and wonders how
life would be different in many parts of the world if families like hers just had a faucet
dispensing clean water right next to their home.

When you are finished, take time to reflect on the readings and prepare for Videoconference 2.


Glaciers in the high heart of Asia feed its greatest rivers, lifelines for two billion people.
Now the ice and snow are diminishing.

By Brook Larmer
Photograph by Jonas Bendiksen

The gods must be furious.

It's the only explanation that makes sense to Jia Son, a Tibetan farmer surveying the
catastrophe unfolding above his village in China's mountainous Yunnan Province. "We've upset
the natural order," the devout, 52-year-old Buddhist says. "And now the gods are punishing us."

On a warm summer afternoon, Jia Son has hiked a mile and a half up the gorge that Mingyong
Glacier has carved into sacred Mount Kawagebo, looming 22,113 feet high in the clouds above.
There's no sign of ice, just a river roiling with silt-laden melt. For more than a century, ever
since its tongue lapped at the edge of Mingyong village, the glacier has retreated like a dying
serpent recoiling into its lair. Its pace has accelerated over the past decade, to more than a
football field every year—a
distinctly unglacial rate for an
ancient ice mass.

"This all used to be ice ten years

ago," Jia Son says, as he
scrambles across the scree and
brush. He points out a yak trail
etched into the slope some 200
feet above the valley bottom.
"The glacier sometimes used to
cover that trail, so we had to
lead our animals over the ice to
get to the upper meadows."

Around a bend in the river, the

glacier's snout finally comes into view: It's a deathly shade of black, permeated with pulverized
rock and dirt. The water from this ice, once so pure it served in rituals as a symbol of Buddha
himself, is now too loaded with sediment for the villagers to drink. For nearly a mile the
glacier's once smooth surface is ragged and cratered like the skin of a leper. There are glimpses

of blue-green ice within the fissures, but the cracks themselves signal trouble. "The beast is sick
and wasting away," Jia Son says. "If our sacred glacier cannot survive, how can we?"

It is a question that echoes around the globe, but nowhere more urgently than across the vast
swath of Asia that draws its water from the "roof of the world." This geologic colossus—the
highest and largest plateau on the planet, ringed by its tallest mountains—covers an area
greater than western Europe, at an average altitude of more than two miles. With nearly
37,000 glaciers on the Chinese side alone, the Tibetan Plateau and its surrounding arc of
mountains contain the largest volume of ice outside the polar regions. This ice gives birth to
Asia's largest and most legendary rivers, from the Yangtze and the Yellow to the Mekong and
the Ganges—rivers that over the course of history have nurtured civilizations, inspired religions,
and sustained ecosystems. Today they are
lifelines for some of Asia's most densely settled
areas, from the arid plains of Pakistan to the A crisis is brewing on the roof of
thirsty metropolises of northern China 3,000
the world. For all its seeming
miles away. All told, some two billion people in
more than a dozen countries—nearly a third of
might and immutability, this
the world's population—depend on rivers fed by geologic expanse is more
the snow and ice of the plateau region. vulnerable to climate change
than almost anywhere else
But a crisis is brewing on the roof of the world,
and it rests on a curious paradox: For all its on Earth.
seeming might and immutability, this geologic
expanse is more vulnerable to climate change than almost anywhere else on Earth. The Tibetan
Plateau as a whole is heating up twice as fast as the global average of 1.3°F over the past
century—and in some places even faster. These warming rates, unprecedented for at least two
millennia, are merciless on the glaciers, whose rare confluence of high altitudes and low
latitudes make them especially sensitive to shifts in climate.

For thousands of years the glaciers have formed what Lonnie Thompson, a glaciologist at Ohio
State University, calls "Asia's freshwater bank account"—an immense storehouse whose
buildup of new ice and snow (deposits) has historically offset its annual runoff (withdrawals).
Glacial melt plays its most vital role before and after the rainy season, when it supplies a
greater portion of the flow in every river from the Yangtze (which irrigates more than half of
China's rice) to the Ganges and the Indus (key to the agricultural heartlands of India and

But over the past half century, the balance has been lost, perhaps irrevocably. Of the 680
glaciers Chinese scientists monitor closely on the Tibetan Plateau, 95 percent are shedding
more ice than they're adding, with the heaviest losses on its southern and eastern edges.
"These glaciers are not simply retreating," Thompson says. "They're losing mass from the
surface down." The ice cover in this portion of the plateau has shrunk more than 6 percent
since the 1970s—and the damage is still greater in Tajikistan and northern India, with 35
percent and 20 percent declines respectively over the past five decades.

The rate of melting is not uniform, and a number of glaciers in the Karakoram Range on the
western edge of the plateau are actually advancing. This anomaly may result from increases in
snowfall in the higher latitude—and therefore colder—Karakorams, where snow and ice are
less vulnerable to small temperature increases. The gaps in scientific knowledge are still great,
and in the Tibetan Plateau they are deepened by the region's remoteness and political
sensitivity—as well as by the inherent complexities of climate science.

Though scientists argue about the rate and cause of glacial retreat, most don't deny that it's
happening. And they believe the worst may be yet to come. The more dark areas that are
exposed by melting, the more sunlight is absorbed than reflected, causing temperatures to rise
faster. (Some climatologists believe this warming feedback loop could intensify the Asian
monsoon, triggering more violent storms and flooding in places such as Bangladesh and
Myanmar.) If current trends hold, Chinese scientists believe that 40 percent of the plateau's
glaciers could disappear by 2050. "Full-scale glacier shrinkage is inevitable," says Yao Tandong,
a glaciologist at China's Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research. "And it will lead to ecological

The potential impacts extend far beyond the glaciers. On the Tibetan Plateau, especially its dry
northern flank, people are already affected by a warmer climate. The grasslands and wetlands
are deteriorating, and the permafrost that feeds them with spring and summer melt is
retreating to higher elevations. Thousands of lakes have dried up. Desert now covers about
one-sixth of the plateau, and in places sand dunes lap across the highlands like waves in a
yellow sea. The herders who once thrived here are running out of options.

Along the plateau's southern edge, by contrast, many communities are coping with too much
water. In alpine villages like Mingyong, the glacial melt has swelled rivers, with welcome side
effects: expanded croplands and longer growing seasons. But such benefits often hide deeper
costs. In Mingyong, surging meltwater has carried away topsoil; elsewhere, excess runoff has
been blamed for more frequent flooding and landslides. In the mountains from Pakistan to
Bhutan, thousands of glacial lakes have formed, many potentially unstable. Among the more
dangerous is Imja Tsho, at 16,400 feet on the trail to Nepal's Island Peak. Fifty years ago the
lake didn't exist; today, swollen by melt, it is a mile long and 300 feet deep. If it ever burst
through its loose wall of moraine, it would drown the Sherpa villages in the valley below.

This situation—too much water, too little water—captures, in miniature, the trajectory of the
overall crisis. Even if melting glaciers provide an
abundance of water in the short run, they portend a
frightening endgame: the eventual depletion of Asia's
The grasslands are dying out,
greatest rivers. Nobody can predict exactly when the
watering holes are drying up. glacier retreat will translate into a sharp drop in
Warming temperatures are runoff. Whether it happens in 10, 30, or 50 years
turning prairie into desert. depends on local conditions, but the collateral
The family’s herd has dwindled damage across the region could be devastating. Along
from 500 animals to 120. with acute water and electricity shortages, experts
predict a plunge in food production, widespread
migration in the face of ecological changes, even
conflicts between Asian powers.

The nomads' tent is a pinprick of white against a canvas of green and brown. There is no other
sign of human existence on the 14,000-foot-high prairie that seems to extend to the end of the
world. As a vehicle rattles toward the tent, two young men emerge, their long black hair
horizontal in the wind. Ba O and his brother Tsering are part of an unbroken line of Tibetan
nomads who for at least a thousand years have led their herds to summer grazing grounds near
the headwaters of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers.

Inside the tent, Ba O's wife tosses patties of dried yak dung onto the fire while her four-year-old
son plays with a spool of sheep's wool. The family matriarch, Lu Ji, churns yak milk into cheese,
rocking back and forth in a hypnotic rhythm. Behind her are two weathered Tibetan chests
topped with a small Buddhist shrine: a red prayer wheel, a couple of smudged Tibetan texts,
and several yak butter candles whose flames are never allowed to go out. "This is the way
we've always done things," Ba O says. "And we don't want that to change."

But it may be too late. The grasslands are dying out, as decades of warming temperatures—
exacerbated by overgrazing—turn prairie into desert. Watering holes are drying up, and now,
instead of traveling a short distance to find summer grazing for their herds, Ba O and his family
must trek more than 30 miles across the high plateau. Even there the grass is meager. "It used
to grow so high you could lose a sheep in it," Ba O says. "Now it doesn't reach above their
hooves." The family's herd has dwindled from 500 animals to 120. The next step seems
inevitable: selling their remaining livestock and moving into a government resettlement camp.

Across Asia the response to climate-induced threats has mostly been slow and piecemeal, as if
governments would prefer to leave it up to the industrialized countries that pumped the
greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in the first place. There are exceptions. In Ladakh, a
bone-dry region in northern India and Pakistan that relies entirely on melting ice and snow, a
retired civil engineer named Chewang Norphel has built "artificial glaciers"—simple stone
embankments that trap and freeze glacial melt in the fall for use in the early spring growing
season. Nepal is developing a remote monitoring system to gauge when glacial lakes are in
danger of bursting, as well as the technology to drain them. Even in places facing destructive
monsoonal flooding, such as Bangladesh, "floating schools" in the delta enable kids to continue
their education—on boats.

But nothing compares to the campaign in China, which has less water than Canada but 40 times
more people. In the vast desert in the Xinjiang region, just north of the Tibetan Plateau, China
aims to build 59 reservoirs to capture and save glacial runoff. Across Tibet, artillery batteries
have been installed to launch rain-inducing silver iodide into the clouds. In Qinghai the
government is blocking off degraded grasslands in hopes they can be nurtured back to health.
In areas where grasslands have already turned to scrub desert, bales of wire fencing are rolled
out over the last remnants of plant life to prevent them from blowing away.

Along the road near the town of Madoi are two rows of newly built houses. This is a
resettlement village for Tibetan nomads, part of a massive and controversial program to relieve
pressure on the grasslands near the sources of China's three major rivers—the Yangtze, Yellow,
and Mekong—where nearly half of Qinghai Province's 530,000 nomads have traditionally lived.
Tens of thousands of nomads here have had to give up their way of life, and many more—
including, perhaps, Ba O—may follow.

The subsidized housing is solid, and residents receive a small annual stipend. Even so, Jixi Lamu,
a 33-year-old woman in a traditional embroidered dress, says her family is stuck in limbo,
dependent on government handouts. "We've spent the $400 we had left from selling off our
animals," she says. "There was no future with our herds, but there's no future here either." Her
husband is away looking for menial work. Inside the one-room house, her mother sits on the
bed, fingering her prayer beads. A Buddhist shrine stands on the other side of the room, but the
candles have burned out.

It is not yet noon in Delhi, just 180 miles south of the Himalayan glaciers. But in the narrow
corridors of Nehru Camp, a slum in this city of 16 million, the blast furnace of the north Indian
summer has already sent temperatures soaring past 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Chaya, the 25-
year-old wife of a fortune-teller, has spent seven hours joining the mad scramble for water
that, even today, defines life in this heaving metropolis—and offers a taste of what the
depletion of Tibet's water and ice portends.

Chaya's day began long before sunrise, when she and her five children fanned out in the
darkness, armed with plastic jugs of every size. After daybreak, the rumor of a tap with running
water sent her stumbling in a panic through the slum's narrow corridors. Now, with her

containers still empty and the sun blazing overhead, she has returned home for a moment's
rest. Asked if she's eaten anything today, she laughs: "We haven't even had any tea yet."

Suddenly cries erupt—a water truck has been spotted. Chaya leaps up and joins the human
torrent in the street. A dozen boys swarm onto a blue tanker, jamming hoses in and siphoning
the water out. Below, shouting women jostle for position with their containers. In six minutes
the tanker is empty. Chaya arrived too late and must move on to chase the next rumor of

Delhi's water demand already exceeds supply by more than 300 million gallons a day, a shortfall
worsened by inequitable distribution and a leaky infrastructure that loses an estimated 40
percent of the water. More than two-thirds of the city's water is pulled from the Yamuna and
the Ganges, rivers fed by Himalayan ice. If that ice disappears, the future will almost certainly
be worse. "We are facing an unsustainable situation," says Diwan Singh, a Delhi environmental
activist. "Soon—not in thirty years but in five to ten—there will be an exodus because of the
lack of water."

The tension already seethes. In the clogged alleyway around one of Nehru Camp's last
functioning taps, which run for one hour a day, a man punches a woman who cut in line, leaving
a purple welt on her face. "We wake up every morning fighting over water," says Kamal Bhate,
a local astrologer watching the melee. This one dissolves into shouting and finger-pointing, but
the brawls can be deadly. In a nearby slum a teenage boy was recently beaten to death for
cutting in line.

As the rivers dwindle, the conflicts could spread. India, China, and Pakistan all face pressure to
boost food production to keep up with their huge and growing populations. But climate change
and diminishing water supplies could reduce cereal yields in South Asia by 5 percent within
three decades. "We're going to see rising tensions over shared water resources, including
political disputes between farmers, between farmers and cities, and between human and
ecological demands for water," says Peter Gleick, a water expert and president of the Pacific
Institute in Oakland, California. "And I believe more of these tensions will lead to violence."

The real challenge will be to prevent water conflicts from spilling across borders. There is
already a growing sense of alarm in Central Asia over the prospect that poor but glacier-heavy
nations (Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan) may one day restrict the flow of water to their parched but oil-
rich neighbors (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan). In the future, peace between Pakistan
and India may hinge as much on water as on nuclear weapons, for the two countries must
share the glacier-dependent Indus.

The biggest question mark hangs over China, which controls the sources of the region's major
rivers. Its damming of the Mekong has sparked anger downstream in Indochina. If Beijing
follows through on tentative plans to divert the Brahmaputra, it could provoke its rival, India, in
the very region where the two countries fought a war in 1962.

For the people in Nehru Camp, geopolitical concerns are lost in the frenzied pursuit of water. In
the afternoon, a tap outside the slum is suddenly turned on, and Chaya, smiling triumphantly,
hauls back a full, ten-gallon jug on top of her head. The water is dirty and bitter, and there are
no means to boil it. But now, at last, she can give her children their first meal of the day: a piece
of bread and a few spoonfuls of lentil stew. "They should be studying, but we keep shooing
them away to find water," Chaya says. "We have no choice, because who knows if we'll find
enough water tomorrow."

Fatalism may be a natural response to forces that seem beyond our control. But Jia Son, the
Tibetan farmer watching Mingyong Glacier shrink, believes that every action counts—good or
bad, large or small. Pausing on the mountain trail,
he makes a guilty confession. The melting ice, he
says, may be his fault. The real challenge will be to
When Jia Son first noticed the rising prevent water conflicts from
temperatures—an unfamiliar trickle of sweat spilling across borders. In the
down his back about a decade ago—he figured it future, peace between Pakistan
was a gift from the gods. Winter soon lost some and India may hinge as much on
of its brutal sting. The glacier began releasing its
water as on nuclear weapons.
water earlier in the summer, and for the first time
in memory villagers had the luxury of two
harvests a year.

Then came the Chinese tourists, a flood of city dwellers willing to pay locals to take them up to
see the glacier. The Han tourists don't always respect Buddhist traditions; in their gleeful hollers
to provoke an icefall, they seem unaware of the calamity that has befallen the glacier. Still, they
have turned a poor village into one of the region's wealthiest. "Life is much easier now," says Jia
Son, whose simple farmhouse, like all in the village, has a television and government-subsidized
satellite dish. "But maybe our greed has made Kawagebo angry."

He is referring to the temperamental deity above his village. One of the holiest mountains in
Tibetan Buddhism, Kawagebo has never been conquered, and locals believe its summit—and its
glacier—should remain untouched. When a Sino-Japanese expedition tried to scale the peak in
1991, an avalanche near the top of the glacier killed all 17 climbers. Jia Son remains convinced
the deaths were not an accident but an act of divine retribution. Could Mingyong's retreat be
another sign of Kawagebo's displeasure?

Jia Son is taking no chances. Every year he embarks on a 15-day pilgrimage around Kawagebo to
show his deepening Buddhist devotion. He no longer hunts animals or cuts down trees. As part
of a government program, he has also given up a parcel of land to be reforested. His family still
participates in the village's tourism cooperative, but Jia Son makes a point of telling visitors
about the glacier's spiritual significance. "Nothing will get better," he says, "until we get rid of
our materialistic thinking."

It's a simple pledge, perhaps, one that hardly seems enough to save the glaciers of the Tibetan
Plateau—and stave off the water crisis that seems sure to follow. But here, in the shadow of
one of the world's fastest retreating glaciers, this lone farmer has begun, in his own small way,
to restore the balance.

Originally published in National Geographic Magazine, March 2010

Available online at


If the millions of women who haul water long distances had a faucet by their door,
whole societies could be transformed.

By Tina Rosenberg
Photograph by Lynn Johnson

Aylito Binayo's feet know the mountain. Even at four in the morning she can run down the
rocks to the river by starlight alone and climb the steep mountain back up to her village with 50
pounds of water on her back. She has made this journey three times a day for nearly all her 25
years. So has every other woman in her village of Foro, in the Konso district of southwestern
Ethiopia. Binayo dropped out of school when she was eight years old, in part because she had
to help her mother fetch water from the Toiro River. The water is dirty and unsafe to drink;
every year that the ongoing drought continues, the once mighty river grows more exhausted.
But it is the only water Foro has ever had.

The task of fetching water defines life for Binayo. She must also help her husband grow cassava
and beans in their fields, gather grass for their goats, dry grain and take it to the mill for
grinding into flour, cook meals, keep the family compound clean, and take care of her three
small sons. None of these jobs is as important or as consuming as the eight hours or so she
spends each day fetching water.

In wealthy parts of the world, people turn on a faucet and out pours abundant, clean water. Yet
nearly 900 million people in the world have no access to clean water, and 2.5 billion people
have no safe way to dispose of human waste—many
defecate in open fields or near the same rivers they
drink from. Dirty water and lack of a toilet and Where clean water is scarcest,
proper hygiene kill 3.3 million people around the fetching it is almost always
world annually, most of them children under age women’s work. In much of the
five. Here in southern Ethiopia, and in northern developing world, lack of water
Kenya, a lack of rain over the past few years has
is at the center of a vicious circle
made even dirty water elusive.
of inequality.
Where clean water is scarcest, fetching it is almost
always women's work. In Konso a man hauls water
only during the few weeks following the birth of a baby. Very young boys fetch water, but only
up to the age of seven or eight. The rule is enforced fiercely—by men and women. "If the boys
are older, people gossip that the woman is lazy," Binayo says. The reputation of a woman in

Konso, she says, rests on hard work: "If I sit and stay at home and do nothing, nobody likes me.
But if I run up and down to get water, they say I'm a clever woman and work hard."

In much of the developing world, lack of water is at the center of a vicious circle of inequality.
Some women in Foro come down to the river five times a day—with one or two of the trips
devoted to getting water to make a beer-style home brew for their husbands. When I first came
to Foro, some 60 men were sitting in the shade of a metal-roofed building, drinking and talking.
It was midmorning. Women, says Binayo, "never get five seconds to sit down and rest."

On a hot late afternoon I

go with her to the river,
carrying an empty jerry
can. The trail is steep and
in places slippery. We
scramble down large rocks
alongside cacti and
thornbushes. After 50
minutes we reach the
river—or what is a river at
certain times of the year.
Now it is a series of black,
muddy pools, some barely
puddles. The banks and rocks are littered with the excrement of donkeys and cows. There are
about 40 people at the river, enough so that Binayo decides that the wait might be shorter
upstream. The wait is especially long early in the morning, so Binayo usually makes her first trip
before it is light, leaving her son Kumacho, a serious-faced little man who looks even younger
than his four years, in charge of his younger brothers.

We walk another ten minutes upstream, and Binayo claims a perch next to a good pool, one fed
not only by a dirty puddle just above but also a cleaner stream to the side. Children are jumping
on the banks, squishing mud through their feet and stirring up the water. "Please don't jump,"
Binayo admonishes them. "It makes the water dirtier." A donkey steps in to drink from the
puddle feeding Binayo's pool. When the donkey leaves, the women at the puddle scoop out
some water to clear it, sending the dirty water down to Binayo, who scolds them.

After half an hour it is her turn. She takes her first jerry can and her yellow plastic scoop. Just as
she puts her scoop in the water, she looks up to see another donkey plunk its hoof into the pool
feeding hers. She grimaces. But she cannot wait any longer. She does not have the luxury of

An hour after we arrive at the river, she has filled two jerry cans—one for her to carry back up,
one for me to carry for her. She ties a leather strap around my can and puts it on my back. I am
grateful for the smooth leather—Binayo herself uses a coarse rope. Still, the straps cut into my
shoulders. The plastic can is full to the top, and the 50-pound load bounces off my spine as I
walk. With difficulty, I make it halfway up. But where the trail turns steepest I can go no farther.
Sheepishly, I trade cans with a girl who looks to be about eight, carrying a jerry can half the size
of mine. She struggles with the heavier can, and
about ten minutes from the top it is too much for
her. Binayo takes the heavy jerry can from the girl At the district health center, almost
and puts it on her own back, on top of the one she half the 500 patients treated daily
is carrying. She shoots us both a look of disgust were sick with waterborne
and continues up the mountain, now with nearly diseases. Yet the health center
12 gallons of water—a hundred pounds—on her
itself lacked clean water.

"When we are born, we know that we will have a hard life," Binayo says, sitting outside a hut in
her compound, in front of the cassava she is drying on a goatskin, holding Kumacho, who wears
no pants. "It is the culture of Konso from a long time before us." She has never questioned this
life, never expected anything different. But soon, for the first time, things are going to change.

When you spend hours hauling water long distances, you measure every drop. The average
American uses a hundred gallons of water just at home every day; Aylito Binayo makes do with
two and a half gallons. Persuading people to use their water for washing is far more difficult
when that water is carried up a mountain. And yet sanitation and hygiene matter—proper hand
washing alone can cut diarrheal diseases by some 45 percent. Binayo washes her hands with
water "maybe once a day," she says. She washes clothes once a year. "We don't even have
enough water for drinking—how can we wash our clothes?" she says. She washes her own body
only occasionally. A 2007 survey found that not a single Konso household had water with soap
or ash (a decent cleanser) near their latrines to wash their hands. Binayo's family recently dug a
latrine but cannot afford to buy soap.

Much of the cash they do have goes for four to eight-dollar visits to the village health clinic to
cure the boys of diarrhea caused by bacteria and parasites they regularly get from the lack of
proper hygiene and sanitation and from drinking untreated river water. At the clinic, nurse
Israel Estiphanos said that in normal times 70 percent of his patients suffer waterborne
diseases—and now the area was in the midst of a particularly severe outbreak. Next to the
clinic a white tent had arisen for these patients. By my next visit, Estiphanos was attending to
his patients wearing high rubber boots.

Sixteen miles away at the district health center in Konso's capital, almost half the 500 patients
treated daily were sick with waterborne diseases. Yet the health center itself lacked clean
water. On the walls of the staff rooms were posters listing the principles of infection control.
But for four months a year, the water feeding their
taps would run out, said Birhane Borale, the head
Communities where clean water nurse, so the government would truck in river
becomes accessible and plentiful water. "We use water then only to give to patients
to drink or swallow medicine," he said. "We have
are transformed. All the hours
HIV patients and hepatitis B patients. They are
previously spent hauling water
bleeding, and these diseases are easily
can be used to grow more food, transmittable—we need water to disinfect. But we
raise more animals, or even start can clean rooms only once a month."
income-producing businesses.
Even medical personnel weren't in the habit of
washing hands between patients, as working taps
existed at only a few points in the building—most of the examining rooms had taps, but they
were not connected. Tsega Hagos, a nurse, said she had gotten spattered with blood taking out
a patient's IV. But even though there was water that day, she had not washed her hands
afterward. "I just put on a different glove," she said. "I wash my hands when I get home after

Bringing clean water close to people's homes is key to reversing the cycle of misery.
Communities where clean water becomes accessible and plentiful are transformed. All the
hours previously spent hauling water can be used to grow more food, raise more animals, or
even start income-producing businesses. Families no longer drink microbe soup, so they spend
less time sick or caring for loved ones stricken with waterborne diseases. Most important,
freedom from water slavery means girls can go to school and choose a better life. The need to
fetch water for the family, or to take care of younger siblings while their mother goes, is the
main reason very few women in Konso have attended school. Binayo is one of only a handful of
women I met who even know how old they are.

Access to water is not solely a rural problem. All over the developing world, many urban slum
dwellers spend much of the day waiting in line at a pump. But the challenges of bringing water
to remote villages like those in Konso are overwhelming. Binayo's village of Foro sits atop a
mountain. Many villages in the tropics were built high in the hills, where it is cooler and less
malarious and easier to see when the enemy is coming. But Konso's mountaintop villages do
not have easy access to water. Drought and deforestation keep pushing the water table
lower—in some parts of Konso it is more than 400 feet belowground. The best that can be done

in some villages is to put in a well near the river. The water is no closer, but at least it is reliable,
easier to extract, and more likely to be clean.

Yet in many poor nations, vast numbers of villages where wells are feasible do not have them.
Boring deep holes requires geological know-how and expensive heavy machinery. Water in
many countries, as in Ethiopia, is the responsibility of each district, and these local governments
have little expertise or money. "People who live in slums and rural areas with no access to
drinking water are the same people who don't have access to politicians," says Paul Faeth,
president of Global Water Challenge, a consortium of 24 nongovernmental groups that's based
in Washington, D.C. So the effort to make clean water accessible falls largely to charity groups,
with mixed success.

The villages of Konso are littered with the ghosts of water projects past. In Konsos around the
developing world, the biggest problem with water schemes is that about half of them fall into
disrepair soon after the groups that built them move on. Sometimes technology is used that
can't be repaired locally, or spare parts are available only in the capital. But other reasons are
achingly trivial: The villagers can't raise money for a three-dollar part or don't trust anyone to
make the purchase with their pooled funds. The 2007 survey of Konso found that only nine
projects out of 35 built were functioning.

Today a U.K.-based international nonprofit organization called WaterAid, one of the world's
largest water-and-sanitation charities, is tackling the job of bringing water to the most
forgotten villages of Konso. At the time of my visit, WaterAid had repaired five projects and set
up committees in those villages to manage them, and it was working to revive three others. At
the health center in Konso's capital, it was installing gutters on the sloped roofs of the buildings
to conduct rainwater to a covered tank. The water is now being treated and used in the health

WaterAid is also working in villages like Foro, where no one has successfully brought water
before. Their approach combines technologies proven to last—such as building a sand dam to
capture and filter rainwater that would otherwise drain away—with new ideas like installing
toilets that also generate methane gas for a new communal kitchen. But the real innovation is
that WaterAid treats technology as only part of the solution. Just as important is involving the
local community in designing, building, and maintaining new water projects. Before beginning
any project, WaterAid asks the community to form a WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene)
committee of seven people—four of whom must be women. The committee works with
WaterAid to plan projects and involve the village in construction. Then it maintains and runs the

The people of Konso, who grow their crops on terraces they have painstakingly dug into the
sides of mountains, are famous for hard work, and they are an asset—one of Konso's few—in
the quest for water. In the village of Orbesho, residents even built a road themselves so that
drilling machinery could come in. Last summer their pump, installed by the river, was being
motorized to push its water to a newly built reservoir on top of a nearby mountain. From there,
gravity would pipe it down to villages on the other side of the mountain. Residents of those
villages had contributed a few cents apiece to help fund the project, made concrete, and
collected stones for the structures, and now they were digging trenches to lay pipes.

From a distance they looked like a riotously colored snake: 200 people, mostly women in
rainbow-striped peplum skirts and red or green T-shirts, forming a wavy line up the side of the
mountain from the pump to the reservoir. Some men were helping lay fat pipes in the trench.
The scene was almost festive with the taste of progress. Hundreds of people had come every
day for four days to spend their mornings digging. The trench was about half finished, and each
day the snake moved farther up the mountain.

If installing a water pump is technically challenging, encouraging hygiene is a challenge of a

different kind. Wako Lemeta is one of two hygiene promoters whom WaterAid has trained in
Foro. Lemeta, rather shy and poker-faced, stops by Binayo's house and asks her husband, Guyo
Jalto, if he can check their jerry cans. Jalto leads him to the hut where they are stored, and
Lemeta uncovers one and sniffs. He nods approvingly; the family is using WaterGuard, a capful
of which purifies a jerry can of drinking water. The government began to hand out WaterGuard
at the beginning of the recent outbreak of disease. Lemeta also checks if the family has a latrine
and talks to villagers about the advantages of boiling drinking water, hand washing, and bathing
twice a week.

Many people have embraced the new practices. Surveys say latrine use has risen from 6 to 25
percent in the area since WaterAid began work in December 2007. But it is a struggle. "When I
tell them to use soap," Lemeta explains, "they usually tell me, 'Give me the money to buy it.' "

Similar barriers must be overcome to keep a program going after the aid group leaves.
WaterAid and other successful groups, such as, CARE, and A Glimmer of Hope,
believe that charging user fees—usually a penny per jerry can or less—is key to sustaining a
project. The village WASH committee holds the proceeds to pay for spare parts and repairs. But
villagers think of water as a gift from God. Should we next pay to breathe air?

Water and money have long been an uneasy mixture. Notoriously, in 1999 Bolivia granted a
multinational consortium 40-year rights to provide water and sanitation services to the city of
Cochabamba. The ensuing protests over high prices eventually drove out the company and
brought global attention to the problems of water privatization. Multinational companies

brought in to run public water systems for profit have little incentive to hook up faraway rural
households or price water so it is affordable to the poor.

Yet someone has to pay for water. Although water springs from the earth, pipes and pumps,
alas, do not. This is why even public utilities charge users for water. And water is often most
expensive to provide for those who can least afford it—people in the remote, sparsely
populated, drought-stricken villages of the world.

"The key question is, Who decides?" says Global

Water Challenge's Faeth. "In Cochabamba nobody Water is often most expensive to
was talking to the very poorest. The process was provide for those who can least
not open to the public." A pump in a rural village, afford it—people in the remote,
he says, is a different story. "At the local level sparsely populated, drought-
there is a more direct connection between the
stricken villages of the world.
people implementing the program and the people
getting access to water."

The Konso villagers, for instance, own and control their pumps. Elected committees set fees,
which cover maintenance. No one seeks to recoup the installation costs or to make a profit.
Villagers told me that, after a few weeks, they realized paying a penny per jerry can is actually
cheap, far less than what they were paying through the hours spent hauling water—and the
time, money, and lives lost to disease.

How would Aylito Binayo's life be different if she never had to go to the river for water again?
Deep in a gorge far from Foro, there is a well. It is 400 feet deep. During my visit it was nothing
much to look at—aboveground it was only a concrete box with a jerry can inverted over it for
protection, surrounded by a pyramid of bramble bushes. But here's what was to happen by
March: A motorized pump would push the water up the mountain to a reservoir. Then gravity
would carry it back down to taps in local villages—including Foro. The village would have two
community taps and a shower house for bathing. If all went well, Aylito Binayo would have a
faucet with safe water just a three-minute stroll from her front door.

When I ask her to imagine this easier life, she closes her eyes and reels off a long list of chores.
She will go the fields to help her husband, collect grass for the goats, make food for her family,
clean the compound. She will be with her sons, instead of leaving a grave little four-year-old in
charge of his younger brothers for hours on end. "I don't know whether to believe it will work.
We are on top of a mountain, and the water is down below," she says. "But if it works, I will be
so happy, so very happy."

I ask her about her hopes for her family, and her answer is heartbreaking in its modesty: to get
through the new hunger brought on by the drought, to get through this new wave of disease—
to scramble back to the meager life she had known before. She doesn't dream. She has never
dared think that someday life could change for the better—that there could arrive a metal
spigot, out of the end of which gushed dignity.

Originally published in National Geographic Magazine, April 2010

Available online at


The Big Melt by Brook Larmer

In what ways has farmer Jia Son and his family been affected by shrinking glaciers in the
Tibetan Plateau, high above his Chinese village?

How is fresh water scarcity posing a threat to global peace?

The Burden of Thirst by Tina Rosenberg

How does water scarcity influence the value Aylito Binayo and others in her village place
on water, and how does that value impact the way they use water and make related
decisions concerning health and cleanliness?

How does water scarcity negatively affect women and girls in many regions throughout
the world? What are the bigger picture side effects of these regions’ patriarchal cultures
as related to water?

Although the focus of this section is on social side effects of water scarcity, what
interesting water policy ideas were presented in these two articles that you may
consider when you are writing your own policy proposals in a few months?


Be prepared to...
Share your experience and stories from the Local Immersion Mission.
Think critically about the wide range of negative side effects global fresh water scarcity
has on the social health of human beings.

Videos: Local Immersion Missions
Naming the problems

Unit 4: Leading Your Community
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

- Mahatma Gandhi

Over the past several months, we have undertaken the very important task of learning,
observing, understanding, and discussing the problems caused by global fresh water scarcity.
Our readings and activities in Units 1-3 toward this end were very important, but it is not the

Our role as advocates and change-agents requires us, and you, to put the knowledge we have
gained into action. Units 4-6, then, will be focused on finding and promoting solutions to the
problems we have observed in Units 1-3.

We will begin, here in Unit 4, by promoting change within our communities, and in particular,
our school communities by leading them in the observance of World Water Day, held each year
on March 22. Established by the United Nations, the purpose of World Water Day is to focus
attention on the importance of fresh water and to advocate for the sustainable management of
fresh water resources.

To prepare yourself for World Water Day, read the following:

Blue Planet Blues by Eleanor J. Sterling, which discusses the role that people in
developed, water-rich regions must play to help increase accessibility to clean, fresh
water for people in water-deprived regions.

Then carefully look over World Water Day to jumpstart the planning for your advocacy
efforts within your school community.


Demand for freshwater threatens to outstrip supply.

How can we meet the needs of all of Earth’s species?

By Eleanor J. Sterling

Water: evolving life-forms crawled out of it hundreds of millions of years ago, yet it still
envelops us in our fetal state, suffuses every tissue of our body, and surrounds our drifting
continents. From ancient origin myths and ritual baths, to Handel’s Water Music and the play of
ornate fountains, to water parks and water slides, we celebrate it. Water molecules move
through the years and across the globe, from rivulets to rivers to oceans, rising into the
atmosphere and falling back to land, connecting each of us to the rest of the world. In this
global cycle, each of us is always downstream from someone else.

Despite all the water in the world, only a small fraction is available to us and other species that
depend on freshwater. Salty seas account for more than 97 percent of the water on Earth. Of
the remaining 3 percent or so, at least two-thirds is tied up in glaciers, ice caps, and permafrost,
or else lie deep underground, of little use to those of us living on the land above.

That last 1 percent, that precious supply that keeps us alive, freshwater, is not evenly
distributed across the globe. The Americas have the largest amount and Oceania (Australia,
New Zealand, and the Pacific islands) the smallest. Thinly inhabited Oceania, however, has the
greatest per capita supply, more than 9.5 million gallons per person per year. Asia has the
lowest. By country, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia,
Indonesia, and Russia together have half the
world’s supply of freshwater; northern Africa and
Salty seas account for more than
the Middle East are the water-poorest. The United
Nations defines water scarcity as less than 500
97 percent of the water on Earth.
cubic meters (132,000 gallons) per person per year. Of the remaining 3 percent or so,
Kuwait has a natural supply only one-fiftieth that at least two-thirds is frozen or
amount, but given its huge supply of oil, it can underground. That last 1 percent,
afford to run desalination plants. freshwater, is the precious supply
At the individual level, further inequities emerge. that keeps us alive.
Although a person can manage for a few days on a
gallon or two a day, an adequate supply of clean water is about thirteen gallons per person per
day. Ten percent of it is needed for drinking, the rest for sanitation and hygiene (40 percent),
bathing (30 percent), and cooking (20 percent). In 2006 the UN estimated that more than a

billion people—one-sixth of the world’s population—lack even the bare minimum gallon-plus
per day of safe drinking water, and 2.6 billion lack access to basic sanitation. In contrast, those
of us who live in the United States and Canada each consume, on average, more than 150
gallons a day for domestic and municipal purposes (not including agricultural and industrial
usage). In the United Kingdom people do fine with about a fifth as much.

People appropriate more than half the world’s available surface freshwater. Globally, 70
percent of withdrawals from rivers and groundwater are used for agriculture, 22 percent for
industry, and the remaining 8 percent for homes and municipal use. As demand increases,
driven by both population growth and soaring consumption rates, water appropriation is
projected to rise to 70 percent by 2025. In many ways, we are already damaging the systems
that provide us with this critical natural resource.

Groundwater is one of the major systems being stressed. Overpumping, or extracting water
faster than the underground systems recharge, has led to plummeting water tables, not only in
the Middle East and northern Africa, but also in
China, India, Iran, Mexico, and the U.S. The Ogallala
Groundwater is one of the major aquifer, one of the world’s largest, stretches under
parts of eight states in the High Plains of the central
systems being stressed.
U.S., from South Dakota to Texas. Water began
Overpumping, or extracting water
collecting in porous sediments there some 5 million
faster than the underground years ago; a geologically slow rate of recharge
systems recharge, has led to means that deep wells still bring up water from the
plummeting water tables. end of the last Ice Age, more than 10,000 years ago,
making it truly “fossil water.” But the aquifer is
being pumped out many times faster than it can be
replenished. Between the early 1900s, when the Ogallala was first tapped for irrigation, and
2005, the water table dropped by more than 150 feet in some parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and
Kansas. The raising of crops has become uneconomical for some Great Plains farmers, and
further depletions could have substantial ripple effects on billions of people around the world
who depend on American farm products.

As more land is paved over, rainwater can no longer soak into the ground or evaporate slowly
to recharge the system. In coastal areas, a falling water table may open an aquifer to an influx
of saltwater, impairing or even ruining it as a freshwater source.

Human activities are affecting other aquatic systems as well. Canals, dams, and levees that
impede the natural flow of water can change not only the absolute quantity but the quality of
water downstream: its concentration of pollutants, its sediment load, its temperature, and so
on. People on both sides of the barrier are affected, whether they are growing crops or fishing
for sport. Those changes can also severely alter or destroy the habitats of other species. More
than half the wetlands in parts of Australia, Europe, New Zealand, and North America were
destroyed during the twentieth century. When people divert water into desert regions to
maintain thirsty crops, luxurious green lawns, and golf courses—instead of growing drought
adapted crops and native and ornamental plants—water resources are decimated. Even high-
volume rivers such as the Colorado, the Ganges,
and the Nile have been reduced, in some places,
to polluted trickles. In water-rich regions, people may
In water-rich regions, people may wonder how
wonder how their actions could
their actions could have any effect on how have any effect on how people use
people use water in water-deprived areas. But water in water-deprived areas.
consumer choices obviously help drive what Consumer choices obviously help
agriculture and industry produce and how they drive what agriculture and industry
produce it. If agriculture and industry account
produce and how they produce it.
for more than 90 percent of water usage, our
closets, cupboards, desks, and refrigerators are
filled with what has been termed “virtual water”: products that require water for their growth,
manufacture, and packaging. Those products now come from all over the world, including from
places with limited water resources.

More than 700 gallons of water are needed to grow enough cotton to make a T-shirt. Your
choice to buy the shirt could lead farmers in arid Central Asia to divert water to irrigate a cotton
crop. Although poor farmers may welcome the cash, such diversions have led, for instance, to a
75 percent loss of volume in the Aral Sea. Once the fourth-largest inland body of water by area,
the Aral has now shrunk so much that its former lakebed is littered with rusty ships, rimmed
with abandoned fishing villages miles from the water’s edge, and scoured by storms of toxic

Conserving water helps not only to preserve irreplaceable natural resources such as the Aral,
but also to reduce the strain on urban wastewater management systems. Wastewater is costly
to treat, and requires continuous investment to ensure that the water we return to our
waterways is as clean as possible. During storms, rainwater runs off the pavement, collecting
pollutants as it goes. Where storm sewers and sanitary sewers are connected, the influx of
storm water can overwhelm sewage treatment facilities, leading to the release of untreated
sewage and polluted storm water directly into local waterways. Forty billion gallons of such a
toxic cocktail flow into the Hudson River and its estuary each year. Several towns and cities
around the world are installing innovative solutions to such problems that also benefit

surrounding ecosystems. Rainwater overflow, for instance, can be channeled into wetland
systems instead of into storm sewers.

Human activities affect water quality in other ways as well. Particularly in large cities, once
water has disappeared down the drain or into a storm sewer, it is rarely thought of again. But
what becomes of the household chemicals poured daily into the water supply—cleansers,
antibacterial soaps, medicines? Ecologists are just now learning about their downstream
effects. One that is well documented is the disruption of growth and reproduction in frogs and
fish. Cities with sophisticated treatment systems can filter out many chemicals, but antibiotics,
hormones, and antibacterial compounds remain hard to handle.

The UN estimates that by 2025, forty-eight nations,

with a combined population of 2.8 billion, will face
The focus has shifted to freshwater “stress” or “scarcity.” Water shortages
already impede development, perpetuate poverty,
reducing demand.
and damage health in low- and middle-income
countries. As populations grow and the demand for
water increases, problems will intensify and will not be contained within national borders.
Population displacements and conflict over shared surface and groundwater resources are
bound to exacerbate international turmoil. It is no coincidence that the word “rival” derives
from the Latin word for “one living on an opposite bank of a stream from another.”

The world also faces the uncertain effects of global warming. The loss of mountain ice caps and
glaciers, for instance, may alter the quantity and reliability of water for drinking, agriculture,
and power generation. California’s Central Valley, which produces a quarter of the food sold in
the U.S., depends on timely seasonal snowmelt from surrounding mountains; farmers could
face failing or lower-yielding crops as the climate warms and less water is available in the
growing season.

Water policy makers have focused on technological solutions to increase water supplies—
diverting surface water, pumping up groundwater, extracting the salt from seawater. Such
solutions often have high costs, both monetary and environmental. And so the focus has shifted
to reducing demand. Hydrologists estimate that as much as 60 percent of the water extracted
from aquatic systems for human use is simply wasted—lost to leakage, evaporation, inefficient
appliances, and human carelessness. Changes in various technologies and in everyday behavior
could slash that number in half. Saving water in the home calls for installing water-efficient
appliances and fixtures, fixing leaks, refilling water bottles from the tap, landscaping with native
plants, and generally being more conscious about water use. Municipalities could construct
wetlands or, better yet, refrain from destroying existing ones. Towns and businesses could pave
with a permeable material that enables water to seep back into aquifers. Industries and
municipalities can reuse water that has been treated but does not reach drinking-water
standards. A bounty of choices is available, once we decide to stop taking water for granted.

Originally published in Natural History Magazine, November 2007

Photograph by Camille Seaman for National Geographic Magazine, originally published April 2010.
Severed from the edge of Antarctica, this iceberg might float for years as it melts and releases its store of fresh
water into the sea. The water molecules will eventually evaporate, condense, and recycle back to Earth as


Blue Planet Blues by Eleanor J. Sterling

According to Sterling, in what ways do the actions of people living in water-rich locations
affect how people use water in water-deprived areas? What can a person living in a
water-rich area do to help alleviate the problems experienced by those living in water-
deprived areas?

What is your reaction to Sterling’s declaration that “The focus has shifted to reducing
demand”? Where does this fit into the balance with technological advancements in the
effort to solve the global water crisis?

How can you use the information in the article to construct an effective advocacy
campaign in your community for World Water Day? What information or arguments
would you use?

What technological solutions or other policies were highlighted in the article that you
would like to see included in your policy proposal to national and international leaders?


On March 22, you and your classmates will be responsible for organizing and hosting an event
in celebration of World Water Day that engages your school community, including students and
teachers, in the campaign for sustainable water management and increased accessibility to
clean, fresh water across the globe.

Your event should:

Educate your school community about global fresh water scarcity and the negative
effects it has on humans and the planet.

Provoke, inspire, and explicitly ask your school community to make personal
commitments to conserve water and educate others about water issues.

Raise money from your school and larger community for Kijana Educational
Empowerment Initiative to fund water conservation projects at Kenyan and American

It is your responsibility to work with your classmates to plan the details of the event and to
coordinate with your school’s administration to ensure success. You should also prepare to
document your efforts and discuss the results during Videoconference 3. For more information
and ideas for your World Water Day effort, visit

Embrace this opportunity to promote change within your community – let your passion for
water sustainability shine outward! This is a valuable chance to raise awareness and make a
real difference towards solving the global water crisis. Be creative in engaging your community
and have fun in planning and presenting your efforts. It will be a great occasion to celebrate
successes at our next videoconference!

Unit 5: Finding Solutions
“In every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our
decisions on the next seven generations.”

- Iroquois Proverb

The time has come for us to begin considering sustainable solutions that will make a large scale
impact on global fresh water scarcity on our larger nations and world. At this point, you are well
aware of the problems presented by the global water crisis, so now let us fully focus our
discussion on how to solve them.

In the following pages, you will encounter a lot of information and viewpoints, many of which
conflict with each other. Such is the nature of complex problems, as finding the right solutions
is also complex and can be very discouraging. As you read the following selections, keep an
open mind, but have a scrutinizing eye.

First, you will read Considering Desalination, and discover both the promise and threat
of technology that enables salt to be removed from ocean water.

Second, you will encounter two wildly different views on the viability and morality of
turning water management over to private corporations, in The Debate Over Water

Third, The Simplest Solution – Conservation, will discuss the innovative ways that a
variety of people and entities have reduced their water consumption.

Fourth, you will consider a number of Ideas in Practice that have been successfully
implemented and used to sustainably manage water supplies throughout the world.

Keep in mind that the solutions discussed in this unit are not comprehensive. There is an
endless amount of ideas and solutions that have been put in practice, or at least debated, all
over the world. You are encouraged to supplement these readings with your own research, and
better yet, use them as launching pads for thinking up and contributing your own ideas.

Our upcoming Videoconference 3 will be an exciting one, as we will deliberate the pros and
cons of these and more solutions. We are one step closer to proposing sustainable water
solutions to our nation and world’s most influential leaders.

Desalination is hailed by many as the most promising and sustainable solution to global fresh
water scarcity, but there are also so serious environmental concerns associated with it. In this
section, you will read two selections on the promise and threat of desalination technology.

Can Ocean Desalination Solve the World’s Water Shortage?

By Earth Talk

Fresh water scarcity is already posing major problems for more than a billion people around the
world, mostly in arid developing countries. The World Health Organization predicts that by mid-
century, four billion of us—nearly two-thirds of the world’s present population—will face
severe fresh water shortages.

Population Growth Drives Quest for Water by Desalination

With human population expected to balloon another 50 percent by 2050, resource managers
are increasingly looking to alternative scenarios for quenching the world's growing thirst.
Desalination—a process whereby highly pressurized ocean water is pushed through tiny
membrane filters and distilled into drinking water—is being held forth by some as one of the
most promising solutions to the problem. But critics point out it doesn't come without its
economic and environmental costs.

Costs and Environmental Impact of Desalination

According to the non-profit Food & Water Watch, desalinated ocean water is the most
expensive form of fresh water out there, given the infrastructure costs of collecting, distilling
and distributing it. The group reports that, in the U.S., desalinated water costs at least five
times as much to harvest as other sources of fresh water. Similar high costs are a big hurdle to
desalination efforts in poor countries as well, where limited funds are already stretched too

On the environmental front, widespread desalination could take a heavy toll on ocean
biodiversity. "Ocean water is filled with living creatures, and most of them are lost in the
process of desalination," says Sylvia Earle, one of the world's foremost marine biologists and a
National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. “Most are microbial, but intake pipes to
desalination plants also take up the larvae of a cross section of life in the sea, as well as some
fairly large organisms…part of the hidden cost of doing business,” she says.

Earle also points out that the very salty residue
left over from desalination must be disposed of Desalinated water costs at least
properly, not just dumped back into the sea. five times as much to harvest as
Food & Water Watch concurs, warning that other sources of fresh water. On
coastal areas already battered by urban and the environmental front,
agricultural run-off can ill afford to absorb tons of
widespread desalination could take
concentrated saltwater sludge.
a heavy toll on ocean biodiversity.
Is Desalination the Best Option?
Food & Water Watch advocates instead for
better fresh water management practices. "Ocean desalination hides the growing water supply
problem instead of focusing on water management and lowering water usage," the group
reports, citing a recent study which found that California can meet its water needs for the next
30 years by implementing cost-effective urban water conservation. Desalination is "an
expensive, speculative supply option that will drain resources away from more practical
solutions," the group says.

Despite such arguments, the practice is becoming more common. Ted Levin of the Natural
Resources Defense Council says that more than 12,000 desalination plants already supply fresh
water in 120 nations, mostly in the Middle East and Caribbean. And analysts expect the
worldwide market for desalinated water to grow significantly over the coming decades.
Environmental advocates may just have to settle for pushing to "green" the practice as much as
possible in lieu of eliminating it altogether.

Originally published by Earth Talk, available online at

Desalination is used mainly in water-scarce coastal arid and semi-arid areas that are located
inland where the only available water source is saline or brackish groundwater. The technology
has been well established since the mid-twentieth century and has evolved substantially to
meet the increased demands of water-short areas. Awerbuch (2004) and Schiffler (2004) report
on the global application of desalination capacity and the most recent advances and challenges.
According to the latest statistics in 2002 from IDA (International Desalination Association) about
50 percent of global desalination takes place in the Middle East, followed by North America (16
percent), Europe (13 percent), Asia (11 percent) Africa (5 percent) and the Caribbean (3
percent). South America and Australia each account for about 1 percent of the global
desalination volume. Globally, the contracted capacity of desalination plants is 34.2 million

m3/day converting principally seawater (59 percent) and brackish water (23 percent). In terms
of the uses of desalinated water, municipalities are the largest users (63 percent), followed by
substantial industry use (25 percent). The cost of producing desalinated water has fallen
dramatically in the past two decades. Recently built large-scale plants produce fresh water for
US$ 0.45/m3 to US$ 0.50/m3 using reverse osmosis (RO) systems and US$ 0.70/m3 to US$
1.0/m3 using distillation systems. The energy consumed to drive the conversion is a significant
part of the cost and ranges from 4 to 15kWh/m3 depending on factors such as the technique
used, the production rate of the facility, and the quality of the equipment (US NRC, 2004).

Much of the conversion is likely to continue to be heavily reliant on fossil fuels with its
associated air pollution. The challenge of what to do with the brine waste by-product remains.
Today it is disposed of by discharge into the ocean or surface waters, sewage treatment plants,
deep-well injection, land application or further evaporation in ponds. Each of these methods
has potentially adverse environmental impacts. The cost of concentrate disposal for inland
locations often limits its applicability in these locations. Schiffer (2004) recommends the
establishment of an internationally agreed-upon environmental assessment methodology for
desalination plants to enable the impacts from different facilities to be consistently compared.

Future uses for desalination are emerging and IDA expects that, with increasing demand and
the up-scaling of processes, it will continue to be applied for the development of economies in
coastal areas to partially meet the demands of recreation and tourism, environmental
protection, the military, and irrigated agriculture. One interesting emerging concept proposes
combining desalinated water with aquifer storage and recovery (DASR) (Awerbuch, 2004; Pyne
and Howard, 2004). This approach has the advantages of allowing storage and recovery of large
volumes of water while minimizing facility throughput with lowered operating costs. Stored
volumes could be used to meet daily or seasonal peaks in water demands while maintaining a
steady desalination rate.

Originally published by UNESCO in “The United Nations World Water Development Report 2”
(2006). Available online at


The concept of water privatization – a term used to mean allowing private interests control the
management and distribution of water resources for profit – is highly controversial. In this
section, you will read two opposing views on each side of this argument.

Private Water Saves Lives

by Fredrik Segerfeldt

Worldwide, 1.1 billion people, mainly in poor countries, do not have access to clean, safe water.
The shortage of water helps to perpetuate poverty, disease and early death. However, there is
no shortage of water, at least not globally. We use a mere 8 per cent of the water available for
human consumption. Instead, bad policies are the main problem. Even Cherrapunji, India, the
wettest place on earth, suffers from recurrent water shortages.

Ninety-seven per cent of all water distribution in poor countries is managed by the public
sector, which is largely responsible for more than a billion people being without water. Some
governments of impoverished nations have turned to business for help, usually with good
results. In poor countries with private investments in the water sector, more people have
access to water than in those without such investments. Moreover, there are many examples of
local businesses improving water distribution. Superior competence, better incentives and
better access to capital for investment have allowed private distributors to enhance both the
quality of the water and the scope of its distribution. Millions of people who lacked water
mains within reach are now getting clean and safe water delivered within a convenient

The privatization of water distribution has stirred up strong feelings and met with resistance.
There have been violent protests and demonstrations against water privatization all over the
world. Western anti-business non-governmental organizations and public employee unions,
sometimes together with local protesters, have formed anti-privatization coalitions. However,
the movement's criticisms are off base.

The main argument of the anti-privatization movement is that privatization increases prices,
making water unaffordable for millions of poor people. In some cases, it is true that prices have
gone up after privatization; in others not. But the price of water for those already connected to
a mains network should not be the immediate concern. Instead, we should focus on those who
lack access to mains water, usually the poorest in poor countries. It is primarily those people
who die, suffer from disease and are trapped in poverty.

They usually purchase their lower-quality water from small-time vendors, paying on average 12
times more than for water from regular mains, and often more than that. When the price of
water for those already connected goes up, the distributor gets both the resources to enlarge
the network and the incentives to reach as many
new customers as possible. When prices are too
low to cover the costs of laying new pipes, each Superior competence, better
new customer entails a loss rather than a profit, incentives and better access to
which makes the distributor unwilling to extend capital for investment have
the network. Therefore, even a doubling of the
allowed private distributors to
price of mains water could actually give poor
enhance both the quality of the
people access to cheaper water than before.
water and the scope of its
There is another, less serious, argument put distribution.
forward by the anti-privatization movement. Since
water is considered a human right and since we die
if we do not drink, its distribution must be handled democratically; that is, remain in the hands
of the government and not be handed over to private, profit-seeking interests. Here we must
allow for a degree of pragmatism. Access to food is also a human right. People also die if they
do not eat. And in countries where food is produced and distributed "democratically", there
tends to be neither food nor democracy. No one can seriously argue that all food should be
produced and distributed by governments.

The resistance to giving enterprise and the market a larger scope in water distribution in poor
countries has had the effect desired by the protesters. The pace of privatization has slowed. It is
therefore vital that we have a serious discussion based on facts and analysis, rather than on
anecdotes and dogmas.

True, many privatizations have been troublesome. Proper supervision has been missing.
Regulatory bodies charged with enforcing contracts have been non-existent, incompetent or
too weak. Contracts have been badly designed and bidding processes sloppy. But these
mistakes do not make strong arguments against privatizations as such, but against bad
privatizations. Let us, therefore, have a discussion on how to make them work better, instead of
rejecting the idea altogether. Greater scope for businesses and the market has already saved
many lives in Chile and Argentina, in Cambodia and the Philippines, in Guinea and Gabon. There
are millions more to be saved.

This article was originally published in the Financial Times, August 25, 2005
Available online at

Water Privatization Conflicts
By Dustin VanOverbeke

In her book Water Wars, the Indian author Vandana Shiva lists nine principles underpinning
water democracy. At least two of these principles are directly compromised by the privatization
of water. Point number four states that “Water must be free for sustenance needs. Since
nature gives water to us free of cost, buying and selling it for profit violates our inherent right
to nature's gift and denies the poor of their human rights.” When private companies try to
make large profits through high water prices, it denies the poor the inalienable right to the
most necessary substance for life. In accordance with this fact, point number seven states,
“Water is a commons. . . It cannot be owned as private property and sold as a commodity.”
How can one justify claiming water as their own through contractual agreement while letting
another human being go thirsty? Water is a commons because it is the basis of all life. Water
rights are natural rights and thus are usufructuary rights, meaning that water can be used, but
not owned. As far-fetched as water ownership may seem, it is happening at an increasing rate
around the globe.

Currently there is a rush to privatize water services around the world. The World Bank and
International Monetary Fund (IMF) are pushing for the privatization of water services by
European and U.S.-based companies. They are pushing privatization through stipulations in
trade agreements and loan conditions to developing countries. These privatization programs
started in the early 1990’s and have since emerged in India, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Nigeria,
Mexico, Malaysia, Australia, and the Philippines, to name a few. In Chile, the World Bank
imposed a loan condition to guarantee a 33 percent profit margin to the French company Suez
Lyonnaise des Eaux while the company insisted on a margin of 35 percent.

This privatization of services is only the first step toward the privatization of all aspects of
water. Through this new globalization and privatization of water resources, there is an effort to
replace collective ownership of water sources with corporate control. This effort is being met
with increasing opposition. Supporters of privatization say that it has a great track record of
success, increasing the efficiency, quality, reliability and affordability of services to the

Yet the industry has a track record of hazards and failures. For example, private companies
most often violate standards of operation, and engage in price fixing without many
consequences. This leads to water stress among the poor populations of these areas, causing
people to drink water that is often very contaminated and hazardous to their health (even
though case studies have shown that privatized water can be very contaminated as well).

Once these private water giants take over
The industry has a track record of water services, prices skyrocket. After
privatization, customer fees in France increased
hazards and failure, leading to water
150 percent while the water quality declined. In
stress among poor populations. a French government report, it was revealed
that over 5.2 million people had received
“bacterially unacceptable water”. In Subic Bay, a former U.S. naval base in the Philippines,
Biwater increased water rates by 400 percent. Water rates in England increased by 450 percent
while company profits soared by 692 percent. CEO salaries for the private corporations behind
the water supply increased by an astonishing 708 percent. As one can expect with such high
price fixing, service disconnection increased by 50 percent. Meanwhile, the British Medical
Association condemned water privatization for its health effects because dysentery increased
six-fold. Many of these examples of the failures of water privatization are occurring in
developed countries, but the most severe effects have been on the developing world. The high
rises in pricing along with deteriorating water quality because of water privatization has led to
much public scrutiny and uprisings by affected communities around the world.

Water Privatization around the World

Australia – In 1998, the water in Sydney was contaminated with high levels of giardia
and cryptosporidium shortly after its water was overtaken by Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux.
Canada – At least seven people died as a result of E. coli bacteria in Walkerton, Ontario,
after water testing had been privatized by A&L Labs. The company treated the test
results as "confidential intellectual property" and did not make them public.
Morocco – Consumers saw the price of water increase threefold after the water service
was privatized in Casablanca.
Argentina – When a Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux subsidiary purchased the state-run water
company Obras Sanitarias de la Nacion, water rates doubled but water quality
deteriorated. The company was forced to leave the country when residents refused to
pay their bills.
Britain – Water and sewage bills increased 67 percent between 1989 and 1995. The rate
at which people's services were disconnected rose by 177 percent.
New Zealand – Citizens took to the streets to protest the commercialization of water.
South Africa – Water became inaccessible, unaffordable, and unsafe after the water
supply was privatized by Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux in Johannesburg. Cholera infections
became widespread and thousands of people were disconnected from their supply of

Published by students from University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s “Water is Life” course.

Available online at


The following is an article from National Geographic Magazine discussing the efforts being
made to conserve water by a variety of populations – individuals, farmers, cities and towns, and

The Last Drop

By Elizabeth Royte
Photograph by Siegfried Layda, Getty Images

Living in the high desert of northern New Mexico, Louise Pape bathes three times a week,
military style: wet body, turn off water, soap up, rinse, get out. She reuses her drinking cup for
days without washing it, and she saves her dishwater for plants and unheated shower water to
flush the toilet. While most Americans use around a hundred gallons of water a day, Pape uses
just about ten.

"I conserve water because I feel the planet is dying, and I don't want to be part of the problem,"
she says.

You don't have to be as committed an environmentalist as Pape, who edits a climate-change

news service, to realize that the days of cheap and abundant water are drawing to an end. But
the planet is a long way from dying of thirst. "It's inevitable that we'll solve our water
problems," says Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, a nonpartisan environmental
think tank. "The trick is how much pain we can avoid on that path to where we want to be."

As Gleick sees it, we've got two ways to go forward. Hard path solutions focus almost
exclusively on ways to develop new supplies of water, such as supersize dams, aqueducts, and
pipelines that deliver water over huge distances.
Gleick leans toward the soft path: a
comprehensive approach that includes
We’ve got two ways to go
conservation and efficiency, community-scale forward. Gleick leans toward the
infrastructure, protection of aquatic ecosystems, soft path: a comprehensive
management at the level of watersheds instead of approach that includes
political boundaries, and smart economics. conservation and efficiency.
Until the mid-1980s, the city of Albuquerque, some
60 miles southwest of Pape's home in Santa Fe, was blissfully unaware that it needed to follow
any path at all. Hydrogeologists believed the city sat atop an underground reservoir "as big as
Lake Superior," says Katherine Yuhas, conservation director of the Albuquerque Bernalillo
County Water Utility Authority. The culture was geared toward greenery: Realtors attracted

potential home buyers from moist regions with landscaping as verdant as Vermont; building
codes required lawns. But then studies revealed startling news: Albuquerque's aquifer was
nowhere near the size it once appeared to be and was being pumped out faster than rainfall
and snowmelt could replenish it.

Duly alarmed, the city shifted into high gear. It revised its water-use codes, paid homeowners
to take classes on reducing outdoor watering, and offered rebates to anyone who installed low-
flow fixtures or a drip-irrigation system or removed a lawn. Today Albuquerque is a striving
example of soft-path parsimony. Across the sprawling city, a growing number of residents and
building owners funnel rainwater into barrels and underground cisterns. Almost everyone in
town uses low-flow toilets and showerheads.

These efforts have shrunk Albuquerque's domestic per capita water use from 140 gallons a day
to around 80. The city "anticipates another 50 years of water, economically and sustainably
supplied, even with a growing population," says Yuhas. After that there's the option to
desalinate brackish water nearby and new technologies such as dual plumbing: one set of pipes
to deliver highly treated potable water and another to recycle less treated water for flushing
toilets, watering lawns, and other nonpotable uses. Albuquerque already uses wastewater—
from treatment plants and from industry—to irrigate golf courses and parks. Other
municipalities have gone a step further and collect
wastewater—yes, from toilets—filter and disinfect it to
Industry, too, is adapting to the nth degree, then pump it back into the local aquifer
less certain water supplies. for drinking. There are similar schemes worldwide:
Frito-Lay will soon recycle Beijing reportedly aims to reuse 100 percent of its
wastewater by 2013.
almost all its water at its plant.
Industry, too, is adapting to less certain water supplies.
Frito-Lay will soon recycle almost all its water at its
plant in Casa Grande, Arizona; Gatorade and Coca-Cola remove the dust and carton lint from
beverage containers using air instead of water; and Google recycles its own water to cool its
giant data centers.

This is all reassuring—until you remember that irrigated agriculture accounts for 70 percent of
the fresh water used by humans. Given this outsize proportion, it seems obvious that farmers
have the greatest potential to conserve water.

Standing on the banks of a trickling ditch, Don Bustos—sunbaked and thickly bearded—
demonstrates how he irrigates 130,000 dollars' worth of produce on 3.5 acres north of Santa
Fe. "I lift this board"—he points to a plank that forms a gate in the ditch—"and I shove in a stick
to hold it up." Gravity does the rest.

For 400 years farmers in the arid Southwest have relied on such acequias—networks of
community-operated ditches—to irrigate their crops. The acequia diverts water from a main
stream, then further apportions the flow through sluiceways into smaller streams and onto
fields. "Without the acequia, there would be no farm," Bustos says. He's also built a water tank
with drip-irrigation hoses that feed some of the acequia water directly to the plant roots—and
cut his water use by two-thirds
as a consequence.

Elsewhere, forward-thinking
farmers have replaced flood
irrigation with micro-sprinkler
systems, laser leveled their
fields, and installed soil-
moisture monitors to better
time irrigation. In California,
says the Pacific Institute, such
improvements could potentially
conserve roughly five million
acre-feet of water a year,
enough to meet the household
needs of 37 million people.
Unfortunately, most farmers lack the incentive to install efficient but expensive irrigation
systems: Government subsidies keep farm water cheap. But experts agree that more realistic
water pricing and improved water management will significantly cut agricultural water use. One
way or another, the developed world will get the water it needs, if not the water it wants. We
can find new supplies—by desalinating water, recycling water, capturing and filtering storm
water from paved surfaces, and redistributing water rights among agriculture, industry, and
cities. Cheaply and quickly we can slash demand—with conservation and efficiency measures,
with higher rates for water wasters, and with better management policies.

What about the rest of the world? In places lacerated by poverty, the problem is often a lack of
infrastructure—wells, pipes, pollution controls, and systems for disinfecting water. Though
politically challenging to execute, the solutions are fairly straightforward: investment in
appropriately scaled technology, better governance, community involvement, proper water
pricing, and training water users to maintain their systems. In regions facing scarcity because of
overpumped aquifers, better management and efficiency will stretch the last drops. Farmers in
southern India, for example, save fuel in addition to water when they switch from flood to drip
irrigation; other communities landscape their hillsides to retain rainwater and replenish

Still, the time is coming when some farmers—the
largest water users and the lowest ratepayers—may Though politically challenging
find themselves rethinking what, or if, they should to execute, the solutions are
plant in the first place. In the parched Murray-Darling
fairly straightforward:
Basin of Australia, farmers are already packing up and
moving out.
investment in appropriately
scaled technology, better
It is hardly the first time that water scarcity has
governance, community
created environmental refugees. A thousand years
ago, less than 120 miles from modern-day Santa Fe,
the inhabitants of Chaco Canyon built rock-lined
ditches, headgates, and dams to manage runoff from their enormous watershed. Then, starting
around A.D. 1130, a prolonged drought set in. Water scarcity may not have been the only
cause, but within a few decades, Chaco Canyon had been abandoned. We hardly need
reminding that nature can be unforgiving: We learn to live within her increasingly unpredictable
means, we move elsewhere, or we perish.

Originally published in National Geographic Magazine, April 2010.

Available online at


The following are selections from UNESCO’s (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and
Cultural Organization) 2006 publication, The United Nations World Water Development Report
2, which highlight sustainable water management practices that have been put to operation
throughout the world.

Rainwater harvesting
Rainwater management, also known as harvesting, is receiving renewed attention as an
alternative to or a means of augmenting water sources. Intercepting and collecting rainwater
where it falls is a practice that extends back to pre-biblical times (Pereira et al., 2002). It was
used 4,000 years ago in Palestine and Greece; in South Asia over the last 8,000 years (Pandey et
al., 2003); in ancient Roman residences where cisterns and paved courtyards captured rain that
supplemented the city’s supply from aqueducts; and as early as 3000 BC in Baluchistan where
farming communities impounded rainwater for irrigation. Recently in India, it has been used
extensively to directly recharge groundwater at rates
exceeding natural recharge conditions (UNESCO,
In India, rainwater harvesting 2000; Mahnot et al., 2003). Reports from other
has been used to directly international organizations focusing on this area
recharge groundwater at rates indicate that eleven recent projects across Delhi
resulted in groundwater level increases of from 5 to
exceeding natural conditions.
10 meters in just two years. In fact, the application of
rainwater management in India is likely to be one of
the most updated and modern in the world. The site provides
links to cases where rainwater management has been successfully applied in different nations
in both urban and rural settings. An advantage of the technique is that its costs are relatively
modest and that individual or community programs can locally develop and manage the
required infrastructures (collection devices, basins, storage tanks, surface or below-ground
recharge structures or wells). Larger rain harvesting schemes, which intercept runoff using low-
height berms or spreading dikes to increase infiltration, have also been introduced in upstream
catchments where deforestation has decreased water availability. The various methods of
rainwater harvesting that have the potential to satisfy local community and crop demands are
described in UNEP (2005).

Water diversion
Diverting surface waters into nearby spreading basins/infiltration lagoons, ditches, recharge
pits or injection wells to recharge alluvial or other types of aquifers are techniques used to deal
with natural variability in flow, reduce evaporative losses, and obtain better quality water.
Water diversion programs being established around the globe are referred to as ASR (artificial
storage and recovery) or MAR (managed aquifer recharge). This practice is being applied in arid
and semi-arid locations throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. Runoff in
‘wadis’ (dry riverbeds that only contain water during times of heavy rain) that otherwise would
discharge into the sea or evaporate, is collected behind earthen berms following infrequent but
heavy rainfall. The water infiltrates into the underlying alluvial gravel thereby remaining
available for substantively longer periods without the excessively evaporative losses that would
typically occur from surface storage. In wetter areas, diversions into alluvium are used as a
means not only to store and maintain groundwater-dependent ecosystems, but also to reduce
the treatment needed for the water supplies systems taken from the alluvium further

Storing water in reservoirs

The construction of dams to create reservoirs has frequently been our response to growing
demands for water to provide hydropower, irrigation, potable supplies, fishing and recreation,
as well as to lower the impacts and risks to our well-being from high-intensity events such as
floods and droughts. These facilities collect natural runoff, frequently quite variable in its
location, duration and magnitude, and store it so that its availability is more constant and
reliable. Good information on the number and capacity of dams is essential to assess impacts
and responses at the local, national and regional levels in order to optimize water resources
management, but it is also needed to address issues related to global climate and water
availability scenarios.

Though the creation of reservoirs enables higher water availability when and where it is
needed, the construction of these facilities has had a considerable impact, both positive and
negative, on the Earth’s ecosystems and landscapes and has resulted in modifications to the
interactions among the components of the hydrological cycle (the “water cycle”). Despite
increased benefits derived from the services reservoirs provide, there is ongoing debate about
how to prevent and reduce the social and environmental consequences that come from
building dams and creating reservoirs. Following considerable media attention and local actions
of some practices are changing. Large dam construction rates have slowed, at least temporarily,
and there have been advances in the reconsideration of alternatives and design criteria. Some
existing dams that no longer provide extensive services have been decommissioned. Lastly,
existing reservoir operations and structures have been modified to allow releases. A balance
between what enters and what is released is required to have a site’s upstream and
downstream hydrological settings and supporting ecosystems sustained. When such a balance
is achieved, the results are substantial. There are both added benefits and potential further
value to the role of reservoirs in development scenarios.

Transferring water among basins
The transfer of water from one river or aquifer basin to another basin has long been used as a
way to meet water demands, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions. It occurs often when
large populations or, more commonly, agricultural demands have outstripped existing water
resources. Even in advanced national development stages, some basins can have surplus water
resources while others face shortages. Major long-distance schemes exist in many nations and
new ones are in development. Linking the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna system with other
rivers in India is part of the solution being offered to counteract extensive recurring droughts
and floods. For example, Shao et al. (2003) present the situation in China where there are seven
existing major transfers and seven more planned or under consideration. They describe a large-
scale south-to-north basin transfer involving the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers’ basins which, when
completed, would divert 450 km3/yr. They also point out some of the impacts of such a large
scheme. Multi-disciplinary approaches allow evaluation of the feasibility and sustainability of
transfer schemes. Global experience has shown that although the transfer of water among
basins has been identified as a hydraulically and technically feasible response, before
proceeding with such potential changes, broad social and environmental considerations must
be taken into account.

Water re-use
[A recent study by] Asano and Levine (2004) recently summarized the more important
challenges associated with water reclamation and reuse. They noted that the technique of
water reuse is being applied in many countries including the United States, Mexico, Germany,
Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, South Africa, Australia, Japan, China and
Singapore. Its increased application is being facilitated by modern wastewater treatment
processes, which advanced substantially during the twentieth century. These processes can
now effectively remove biodegradable material, nutrients and pathogens so the treated waters
have a wide range of potential applications. On a
global scale, non-potable water reuse is currently
the dominant means of supplementing supplies
On a global scale, non-potable
for irrigation, industrial cooling, river flows and water reuse is currently the
other applications (Asano, 1998). The reuse of dominant means of
potable waters has been an accepted global supplementing supplies for
practice for centuries. Settlements downstream irrigation, industrial cooling, river
produced their potable water from rivers and
flows and other applications.
groundwater that had circulated upstream
through multiple cycles of withdrawal, treatment
and discharge (Steenvorden and Endreny, 2004; Asano and Cotruvo, 2004; GW MATE, 2003).
San Diego gets 90 percent of its current municipal water supply from a wholesale water

provider but in the future that amount will decrease to 60 percent with the supplementary
supply coming from reclaimed water and desalination (USGS, 2005). Similar programs are
emerging in many other large urban centers worldwide where there are limited or less readily
available freshwater supplies. Similarly, riverbeds or percolation ponds have been used to
artificially recharge underlying groundwater aquifers mainly with wastewater.

Recent documents from WHO (Aertgeerts and Angelakis, 2003) and the US EPA (2004) address
the state-of-the-art aspects and future trends in water use, both of which predict increased
development and use of the above-mentioned practice to augment water supply sources in
order to meet demands. The WHO guidelines for wastewater reuse first published in 1995 are
being updated with a planned release date of 2006 (WHO, 2005). According to water reuse
surveys (Lazarova, 2001; Mantovani et al., 2001), the best water reuse projects in terms of
economic viability and public acceptance are those that substitute reclaimed water in lieu of
potable water for use in irrigation, environmental restoration, cleaning, toilet flushing and
industrial uses.

The annual reclaimed water volumes total about 2.2 billion m3, based on 2000 and 2001 figures
from the World Bank. Recent projections indicate that Israel, Australia and Tunisia will use
reclaimed water to satisfy 25 percent, 11 percent and 10 percent, respectively, of their total
water demand within the next few years (Lazarova et al., 2001). In Jordan, reclaimed water
volumes are predicted to increase more than four times by 2010 if demands are to be met. By
2012, Spain will need to increase its reclaimed water use by 150 percent and, by 2025, Egypt
will need to increase its usage by more than ten times. A number of Middle Eastern countries
are planning significant increases in water reuse to meet an ultimate objective of 50 to 70
percent reuse of total wastewater volume. The growing trend of water reuse is not only
occurring in water-deficient areas (Mediterranean region, Middle East and Latin America), but
also in highly populated countries in temperate regions (Japan, Australia, Canada, north China,
Belgium, England and Germany). This method of augmenting natural water sources is becoming
an integral component to many water resources management plans and future use policies.

The sections above were originally published by UNESCO in “The United Nations World Water
Development Report 2” (2006).
Available online at


Considering Desalination
Is desalination worth the high costs of production – both financially and
What could be done with the highly concentrated “saltwater sludge” to make
desalination a more environmentally-friendly option?

The Debate Over Water Privatization

In Private Water Saves Lives, what do you make of author Fredrik Segerfeldt’s claim that
private water management would increase efficiency over the publicly managed status
In your opinion, is access to water a basic human right?

The Simplest Solution – Conservation

How can national and international governing bodies promote Peter Gleick’s “soft-path”
approach to solving water scarcity similarly to the way Albuquerque’s city government
was successful in enforcing and incentivizing conservation measures?
What is the best way for governments to get other corporations to follow the lead of
Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Coca-Cola, and Google in conserving and reusing water?
Do government-subsidized discounts on water for agricultural-use discourage careful
water management and conservation by farmers? Do you agree with such subsidies?
Do foreign and international governments have a role to play in helping developing
countries obtain agricultural water conservation technology, such as drip irrigation
systems that farmers in developed countries have access to?

Ideas in Practice
Which of these practices seem feasible in your region or nation?


Be prepared to...
Share your World Water Day efforts and successes.
Speak intelligently about the solutions presented in this Unit’s readings.
Deliberate and identify pros and cons for each of the solutions presented.
Think creatively about how to incorporate solutions into a government adopted policy.

Videos: World Water Day
Deliberating Solutions
Policy Proposals Brainstorm

Unit 6: Leading Your Nation and World
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens
can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

- Margaret Mead

You have learned the issues. You have become closer to water in your region. You have raised
awareness and promoted change within your community. You have deliberated the solutions.
At last, you are now called to make your voice heard to the highest leaders in your nation and
the world.

Along with your classmates, you will write and submit a policy proposal to your national
government. After you have drafted it, you will share your document with your collaborators
across the globe in Videoconference 4, our final full-group gathering. After receiving input from
them, you will send your final submission to your elected representatives in your country’s
Executive and Legislative branches of government. During the videoconference, you will also
work with your collaborators to collectively produce an international policy proposal to be sent
to the United Nations Environmental Program.

This is your chance to send forth a “ripple of hope,” as Robert F. Kennedy once said. By
submitting these policy proposals, you and your collaborators will make a real contribution to
the larger tidal wave of change being generated by concerned global citizens across our
beautiful, yet fragile planet. And when your policies are enacted, you will be able to say that
you were responsible for that change.

To help you craft your policy proposal read the following entry, Writing a Policy

Your hard work over the past nine months has and will continue to make a difference in the
world. This is the final push for this campaign, but your work doesn’t stop until clean fresh
water is available in sufficient amounts for every single one of our fellow human beings on this
planet. Thank you for your commitment.


Using the template shown in the inset picture, you will construct a three-tiered policy proposal.

To begin, you will address the policy proposal in the memorandum header at the top of the
page, filling out the fields, “To:”, “From:”, “Date:”, and “Subject:”

In the body of the document, you will first

write your Problem Statement. This should
be a 3-4 sentence paragraph that
efficiently states, in your own words, what
problem you are attempting to address by
submitting this policy proposal. Using the
knowledge from the readings in Units 1-3,
you should make a compelling argument
that global fresh water scarcity is a serious
problem–indeed, a crisis–telling your
audience why you believe it is critical to
act promptly. You are encouraged to also
incorporate your personal story of
learning about the water challenges faced
by your international collaborators, and
your visit to your region’s local water

Next, you will give your Proposed Solution,

keeping in mind that more than one
solution or idea can be incorporated into
this section. However, you should seek to
narrow your proposal to a few solutions highlighting a clear course of action rather than simply
unloading a bucket list of possible solutions, as this Participant Guide has done. This section
should be a clear and concise proposal that not only states what your solution is, but how you
recommend it to be implemented. For instance, it is not enough to simply suggest water
conservation as a solution; the proposal should detail the course of action that the governing
body should take in increasing water conservation (is it through regulatory enforcement?
Economic incentives?).

Then, write the Major Obstacles/Implementation Challenges to enacting your proposed

solution. It is important to give a fair interpretation to this; don’t understate the challenges and
commitments it will take to implement your solution. Consider the political, financial,
technological, and human barriers that must be overcome to put your policy in action.
Deliberately outlining the risks and challenges of implementing your proposed solution will only
help your audience understand the proposal better.

Finally, the document should be printed out, and every individual who contributed to writing
and developing the proposal should sign their names at the bottom, along with the date.


Be prepared to...
Share the draft of your national policy proposal.
Begin forming the international policy proposal to the United Nations Environmental
Reflect on your experience in the campaign over the past nine months.

Sharing national policy proposal drafts
Deliberating international policy proposal to the United Nations
Final reflections


The supreme good is like water,

which nourishes all things without trying to.

It is content with the low places that people disdain.

Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.

In thinking, keep to the simple.

In conflict, be fair and generous.

In governing, don’t try to control.

In work, do what you enjoy.

In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself

and don’t compare or compete,

everybody will respect you.

- From the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu