The statistics are staggering. Worldwide, 2.5 billion people have no improved sanitation facilities. More than 783 million people lack access to clean drinking water.
But the message at the World Water Summit held Friday in Sydney was encouraging: Rotary members and their clubs can bring down those numbers through collaborations and partnerships with the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and governments.
"These are scary numbers," said Jenny Da Rin, assistant secretary for the Health and Environmental Safeguards branch of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. "Reducing the numbers is a great challenge, but you are all here today because you are committed to playing our part in tackling these challenges. This is a wonderful forum for us to think about how we can do things better, think about how we can work together more effectively, and think about how we can get better results."
The water summit, the sixth convened by the Water & Sanitation Rotarian Action Group, aimed to match industry expert knowledge with Rotary-led projects. Brian Cook, a former Rotary district governor, talked about his district's initiatives with universities on water education in developing countries including Malaysia and India. Event organizers hope that participants took away a better understanding of how they can collaborate and partner with other organizations.
Seth Womble, a former Rotary Group Study Exchange student, is now partnering his organization, Water Missions International in South Carolina, United States, with Rotary clubs to take on urban water issues in the U.S.
"Rotary is invaluable when it comes to understanding local needs," he said. "Their knowledge base and matching the right players with the right connections helps water projects not just succeed but thrive."
"There is a tremendous amount of energy in Rotary water projects," said Tom Thorfinnson, past RI vice president and member of the management team for the water action group. "These initiatives matter because there are tangible results. But we can't do it alone. We can be infinitely more successful by working with outside groups."
Breakout sessions focused on collaborating across Rotary's areas of focus, advocacy and education, and monitoring, evaluation, resolution, and learning. Keynote speakers included Dr. Robert Scott, chair of the Rotary International Polio Eradication Committee; Braimah Apambire from the Center for International Water and Sustainability and the Desert Research Institute; Juliet Willetts, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology; and Peter Crowley, UNICEF's chief of Polio.