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Pulitzer Center Update June 12, 2009

Water for the World: Senate hurdles, global challenge

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In Ethiopia and Kenya, dry seasons grow longer and tribal conflict over access to water is on the...

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Multiple Authors

Jon Sawyer, Pulitzer Center

A shortage of co-sponsors, and political will, is blocking Senate action on the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009, a bill named for the late Illinois senator that sets a goal, with funding, of providing an additional 100 million people with access to clean water and sanitation. It's a classic Washington impasse, politicians jostling over competing priorities and limited resources. But there's a human face to this issue too, one that's abundantly clear in recent Pulitzer Center reports from around the world.


One wrenching video by Anna-Katarina Gravgaard captures the daily struggle of slum dwellers in South Delhi, scrambling to siphon a bit of water from the tanker truck that passes through the neighborhood once a day -- while across the street, in a high-income compound, residents have built cisterns holding hundreds of gallons to assure that their own taps never run dry.

Ernest Waititu, reporting from the Kakuma refugee camp in the arid Turkana region of northwestern Kenya, join women and girls as they dig down to pockets of water, much of it impure, in the dried up bed of the Tarach River.

Sean Gallagher travels by rail and truck across north central China, documenting in photography and print what scientists consider the most rapid instance of desertification in the entire world.

The Pulitzer Center's reporting on these issues began last year with the "Water Wars" project in east Africa, in which journalists from the Common Language Project produced some three dozens stories for public television, public radio and newspapers. The project became the basis for an interactive web portal that now includes over 125 short "share your stories" videos from around the world, from experts as well as students, journalists and concerned citizens.

Many of these short videos were gathered at the World Water Forum this past March in Istanbul, and in follow-on journalist trips to Ethiopia and India organized by the Geneva-based non-profit Media21.

The experts who gathered at the World Water Forum in Istanbul this past March struck two common themes. First, that foul water and inadequate sanitation top the list of global killers, claiming 5,000 lives a day. Second, that low-cost, easily applied technologies are at hand to assure clean water and sanitation to all the world.

What's lacking is political will. The Senate deliberations on the Paul Simon Water for the World Act may not be on the front pages of most newspapers. Most media outlets aren't covering them at all. But the issues raised are important -- and this is a debate worth joining.

You can find the entire gallery of Pulitzer Center reports – and join the conversation yourself! – at the interactive web portal Water Wars, a collection of reporting sponsored by the Center and links to other organizations committed to raising the visibility of water and sanitation issues.

Several dozen schools and universities have joined the Water Wars discussion already. We welcome more. Email us at [email protected] and we'll get you signed up for this innovative (and free!) opportunity to engage people around the world on water and sanitation issues.


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Environment and Climate Change

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Water and Sanitation

Water and Sanitation