Water summit satisfies thirst for information
A lettuce farmer waters his crop in Niamey, Niger. Participants in a water summit at the 2008 RI Convention learned the how to make a water project sustainable. Photo by Alyce Henson/Rotary Images
Every day 5,000 people die because they lack access to safe water. But the message that went out to participants of Thursday’s water summit in Los Angeles was simple: Those deaths are absolutely avoidable.
“This is a huge opportunity, if we rise to the occasion and seize it,” said Past District Governor Ron Denham, chair of the Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group, which organized the event. “But that means doing things differently.”
The daylong conference focused on sustainability, and the approximately 200 attendees heard experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Water for People, USAID, and the PepsiCo Foundation.
Past District Governor Carolyn Crowley-Meub, who organized the summit, hoped that participants took away a better understanding of what makes a sustainable water project, which, she said, begins and ends in the community.
Rotarian panelist Robert Wubbena, of Water for People and project manager of the 10-village Livingstonia Water Project in Malawi, noted that within five years of a launch, many water projects are no longer functioning. He listed three essential elements of a sustainable project:
- Reliable supply of water
- Appropriate technology, such as local materials and local skills
- Community ownership of the project
During the open discussion, several themes emerged, including the need for Rotarians planning a project to find out what’s already going on in a country and to build on that.
“Some of Rotary’s strengths are access to government officials, to business, and the goodwill generated through your polio work,” said panelist Daniele Lantagne, an environmental engineer and water expert with the CDC. “You can pull in people that no one else can. Leveraging those skills to do countrywide coordination would be a really good thing.”
Lantagne also stressed that sanitation is often ignored, and Denham noted that RI President-elect Dong Kurn Lee, who spoke at the conclusion of the summit, has asked Rotarians to direct their service efforts toward reducing child mortality in the coming Rotary year. They can do that, Denham said, by focusing on water and sanitation.
“We should always be thinking how our water project is linked to health,” he said.