8th Annual World Water Forum Begins Today in Brazil

BRASILIA – The World Water Conference opened this morning (March 19) in the capital city of Brazil. An estimated 40,000 people, including 15 heads of state, are expected to attend to discuss the growing crisis with the world’s water supplies.

Thursday, March 22nd, is World Water Day.

Brazilian President Michel Temer opened the conference with a warning that “There is simply no time to lose.” Just prior to the opening session, the UN issued its annual World Water Development Report that forecasts a dramatic increase in the scarcity of water over the next 32 years. An estimated 3.6 billion people currently live in areas where water can be scarce for at least one month every year. The UN anticipates that amount will increase by more than 58 percent to 5.7 billion by 2050.

It is noteworthy that the forum is taking place in the country with the largest freshwater reserves in the world. Nonetheless, just four years ago, reservoirs supplying the city of Sao Paulo were empty because of a combination of drought, population growth, and mismanagement of resources – a problem that exists in regions, countries, and cities around the globe.

The reservoirs supplying the city of Brasilia were built in the 1970s when its population was about 500,000. The area is now home to more than three million people and rapidly expanding numbers of businesses. The rationing of water in the metro Brasilia area is expected to continue for some time to come.

It appears that one of the major concerns the forum expected to discuss – and may still – is the more heavily publicized water shortage in the Cape of South Africa. The drought-stricken region has been preparing for a Day Zero crisis when public access to piped water would no longer be available. Recently, Day Zero had been pushed out from May to July. A 60 percent reduction in water consumption has Cape Town officials breathing easier. If the weather cooperates and citizens and businesses continue to practice restraint, officials believe they may have averted the Day Zero scenario.

Clean water does not appear because someone waves a magic wand. It is available only where engineered solutions for maintenance of all water resources are available, including adequate management of wastewater. Only 45 percent of Brazil’s 210 million citizens have access to managed wastewater.

Even in countries where clean water and wastewater management implementation programs are being addressed, millions of people live in outlying areas where it is simply impractical and unaffordable to build water treatment and delivery systems.

Many citizens of the U.S. would be surprised at the condition of its crumbling infrastructure that was built decades ago. Constructed with federal funds, the maintenance of the systems is beyond the scope of many small communities’ budgets.

The looming global crisis is such that there is no single solution. It may be that these solutions will be created in countries where clean water is already scarce. The U.S. may end up being a beneficiary of engineering marvels that others around the globe have developed.


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