WOMEN’S FORUM SPECIAL REPORTS
An ongoing series of articles highlighting upcoming topics and topical outcomes from Women’s Forum events around the world
THE ELEMENTS OF SUSTAINABILITY
Earth, Wind and Fire is not merely the name of the band that sang ”Boogie Wonderland”. If you add Water you have the four essential components for life on our planet. In this new Women’s Forum Special Report we’ll consider The Elements of Sustainability.
Part 1: A Word About Water
We no longer require sophisticated equipment to measure the impacts of climate change, which are occurring even faster than many scientists predicted. Rising sea levels, heat waves and the devastation caused by extreme-weather events are a few of the consequences we are seeing for ourselves right here and right now. But just in case anyone still has doubts, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently stated that climate change is human-driven and that we have a worryingly short window of time in which to respond as a global community. This is the backdrop to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21 or CMP11), which is taking place at the end of this year Paris. The objective of the conference is to achieve a legally binding agreement on climate from all the nations of the world.
So while 2015 shapes up to become a milestone in humanity’s efforts to safeguard Earth’s natural resources, the Women’s Forum is organizing two key meetings where sustainability and innovative responses to environmental challenges will be at the heart of our discussions. First, the 2015 Women’s Forum Italy, taking place 29-30 June as part of the Universal Exhibition in Milan, will consider how we can guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone while respecting the planet and its equilibrium. And then in October, the Women’s Forum Global Meeting in Deauville, France will look ahead to “Energizing the world”, to see how we might act together as a species to ensure a better tomorrow.
Over the past 10 years diplomatic efforts on behalf of fighting climate change have focused on capping global warming at 2° C by 2100. Getting nations to agree on this limit is one of the chief purposes of the climate change conference in Paris. Yet, while limiting the rise in the Earth’s surface temperature is a commendable goal, the planet’s other vital signs are also in desperate need monitoring, and global cooperation in this regard will have to take on a broader dimension.
Let’s focus, for a moment, on water. As the climate changes, so does the supply and flow of fresh water. Again, we don’t have to look very far into the future to see the challenges we face. For example, as the Mediterranean region and southern Africa face reduced rainfall, 1 billion people who live in these already dry regions are facing increased water scarcity. As the global population grows, so does demand for fresh water. Many water systems around the world are currently overtaxed, and some have already collapsed. According to one estimate, by 2030 the Earth’s need for water will outstrip its reliable supply by 40%.
As we have discussed time and again at Women’s Forum events over the past decade, water is (also) a women’s issue. In countries or geographic regions where widespread poverty is the norm, the lack of access to safe water and adequate sanitation services have a huge impact on the lives of millions of women and girls. Studies indicate that in Sub-Saharan Africa, 71 per cent of the burden of collecting water for households falls on women and girls, who in total spend 16 million hours each day looking for water. The water they work so hard to collect is often dirty and contaminated. Water-borne diseases are the third biggest killer of children in Africa. And it is usually women who undertake the bulk of care for those who are sick.
Fighting water contamination should be a top priority, insists Greg Allgood, founder and director of the P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water programme. He has pointed out that simply providing clean, drinkable water can reduce the risk of disease and death by about 50 percent. In 2010, when he spoke at the Women’s Forum Global Meeting in Deauville, Dr. Allgood discussed a water purification treatment that had (up to that point) saved 13,000 lives in the areas where it was used. This treatment is based on simple-to-use water purification packets. The four-gram packets of powder are added to dirty water and make it safe to drink in a few minutes. “They work like a mini water treatment plant,” Dr. Allgood said. “And they are nothing short of a life-saving miracle for people who have to drink dirty water.”
At the Women’s Forum Italy in June, one of our sessions will consider “water at the heart of agricultural sustainability”, with a focus on “realistic solutions, considering technology as well as policy, to reduce water use and create a more sustainable water footprint for food production”. And at the upcoming Women’s Forum Global Meeting (14-16 October 2015), we will enlarge the discussion to examine ways to “address people’s vital needs – and not unequally, but rather by way of new methods to ensure access for all”.