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Answering the world's growing water problem

The number of people around the world without access to clean water is growing. The answer may not be huge dams but rainwater collection and other micro-projects involving families and communities.

By Staff writer / April 16, 2011

A girl fills her plastic jugs with water from a tap, paying two pesos (4.6 cents) for each gallon, in the Philippines' slum area of Tondo, Manila, on March 21.

Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

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Washington

The portion of the global population living in conditions of at least moderate stress involving water – everything from conflict over access to failing traditional sources and lack of access to clean water – will rise to two-thirds by 2025.

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In other words, two of every three people on the planet will have some form of a water problem, experts say.

Yet as grave as that scenario sounds, specialists gathered at an international water summit in Washington Friday emphasized that even a world of reduced development-assistance budgets has the tools to vastly improve – if not solve – the coming global water challenge.

IN PICTURES: World Water Day 2011

Among the keys to addressing the water challenge will be sustainability, conservation, technological innovation, and local solutions.

Out: giant hydro dams and other one-stop – and prohibitively expensive – solutions to a developing nation’s challenge.

In: rooftop rainwater collection and other micro-solutions that involve families, communities, and the small-scale private sector.

“The problem is not so much scarcity, but management,” said Maria Otero, the US under secretary for democracy and international affairs, speaking at the summit. “Even in the driest regions of the world,” she added, “we can achieve water security with the right water management.”

The summit was sponsored by two historic Rotary Clubs: Washington’s, which is about to celebrate its centennial; and the Rotary Club Paris Academies, which has been meeting for over a half-century on Paris’s Left Bank.

The summit included the participation of ambassadors from more than 20 developing countries, as well as representatives of NGOs deeply involved in the world’s global water challenge.

For all those who feel they’ve heard about an impending water crisis for decades, experts say they’re right.

“The water issue has waxed and waned” over the last three decades, says Steve Hollingworth, executive vice-president for global operations at CARE. The driver of those ups and downs was most often developed-world governments running hot and cold on the issue, experts say.

Water was included in a variety of ways in the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals for 2015 set in 2000. But in the meantime, tight national budgets have hit wealthy donor countries and their assistance budgets.

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