This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 18, 2008 - Safe drinking water, which most Americans take for granted when they turn on the tap, is unknown in many countries and regions of the world.
The cost in human lives and damage to human health caused by use of bad water is enormous, according to The Worldwatch Institute .
"Worldwide, more than 1.1 billion people lack access to improved water supplies, and over 2.7 billion lack sanitation," the institute reports in "State of the World 2008."
That's more than half of the estimated global population of 6.7 billion.
The institute also says that, according to statistics from the U.N. Development Programme and the World Health Organization, at least 1.7 million people died in 2000, in part, from exposure to unsafe water.
Other sources estimate up to 5 million people a year die from water-related diseases.
These facts help explain why St. Louis University's Emerson Ethics Center, of the John S. Cook School of Business, is sponsoring a two-hour forum Nov. 20 on "The Water Crisis Forum."
The discussion, free and open to the public, is part of the center's Sustainable and Ethical Enterprise Development series. It will be in the Anheuser-Busch Auditorium at 3674 Lindell Boulevard.
"The biggest issue is that there is not potable water available in developing countries," said Professor Timothy Keane, center director. "These issues are everyone's problem. Also, we want to discuss how we are using water in wasteful ways."
Keane said the SEED forum series and the Emerson Center want to make residents of the St. Louis area, which is fundamentally rich in drinkable water and usually suffers no shortage of rainfall, aware of the sometimes life-and-death situations of billions of people.
For instance, he said, 84 percent of those who die from water-related causes are children.
In parts of Africa, women must sometimes walk up to eight miles to bring safe drinking water to their families, Keane said.
"We want to give people something specific to latch on to, to help them understand the magnitude of this problem," he said.
People in developed countries like the United States think little of how much water they use each day, Keane said.
The average home uses around 176 gallons a day, he said, while in Africa, the average daily household use is five gallons.
Or consider this from "State of the World 2008," which illustrates how diets in wealthier countries, where people eat more meat, affect water use: "A single hamburger requires over 10,000 liters of water, taking into account what is used to produce corn to feed the cows."
The Worldwatch Institute estimates that more than 70 percent of the water in the world is used in agriculture to produce food and fiber. Industry takes another 20 percent, while "less than 10 percent of global freshwater abstraction is used for drinking water and sanitation."
Four panelists are donating their time to lead the discussion.
- Gary White, executive director and co-founder of WaterPartners International of Kansas City, will give the keynote speech on "The Global Water Crisis." He will follow a presentation format similar to the one used by Al Gore in his film, "An Inconvenient Truth," Keane said.
- Tom Fouch, co-founder of Fertigation Technologies Inc. , of St. Charles, will discuss methods and equipment that measure the need for moisture in the soil under various conditions before rationing water applications.
- Ken Harrington, managing director of the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies https://www.sc.wustl.edu/ at Washington University, will speak on the role of academics in addressing water problems.
- David Visintainer, former water commissioner and director of public utilities for the City of St. Louis Water Division, will speak about his experiences as a consultant in Third World countries.
Repps Hudson is a freelance journalist.
SEED Forum on World Water Crisis
When: 5 p.m. reception, 5:30-7:30 p.m. program, Nov. 20
Where: A-B Auditorium, John Cook School of Business (lower level)
To register: http://jcsb.slu.edu/ethics/
More information: To find a special report on water wars in Africa, go to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting .