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Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico Discusses Critical Issues

At the Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City, 11,000 people representing 130 nations have been looking for ways to protect the vital resource so that it will be available to future generations, rich and poor.

While most of the official business at the forum took place behind closed doors in the main hall, most of the action took place outside.

In hallways and exposition areas, many participants came together for informal discussions.

Indonesian delegate Basuki Hadimuljono said that the real success of big meetings comes from small interactions. "We are not expecting too much of this big, big gathering. What we expect is this,” he said indicating the other delegates. “It is a forum for networking and it depends on us how we use this forum."

The Fourth World Water Forum brought together representatives of governmental agencies, international organizations, non-governmental groups and private companies, some of which are, at times, in conflict with one another.

Norma Ferriz, Director of Mexico's Pronatura environmental group, says dialogue between these various players is what is needed to address water issues. "We can find common ground and then, from there, we can recognize that each of us has something different to bring and that governments or international corporations cannot do without the people and the people cannot do without them."

The theme of this forum was "Local Actions for Global Challenges." Norma Ferriz says there are groups in Latin America that have demonstrated how that works in practice. One example she cites is the community water cooperatives in Honduras called "juntas de agua."

"So they have these juntas de agua in different parts of Honduras and then they created a network and now they are influencing the government, so now the government is recognizing these juntas de agua."

Meeting the demand for water for a growing world population is a great challenge. But an even greater challenge is providing potable water.

Dutch water expert Hans Spruijt works for UNICEF in Ethiopia. He says, "Water is not only a carrier of life, it is also a carrier of death. To make sure it is a carrier of life, we must get the education and sanitation in place."

Although 75 percent of the world's surface is water, only about one percent is fresh water. Technology and improved sanitation systems can increase the amount of healthy drinking water available to a community.

But education is also important. Paul Kay is a science teacher from the U.S. state of Oregon who worked with Mexican counterparts in the Global Education area at the forum.

"I am here teaching the children how to clean water with plants. This water came from the Rio Coyoacan and yesterday, when we put this water in here, we could not see into the water and now it is already starting to clear."

Mr. Kay continued, "You might say the water is polluted, Buckminster Fuller says there is no pollution, there is: valuable resources in the wrong place. If we put fertilizer in the crops, the crops can use it, if we put the fertilizer in the river, that is valuable material in the wrong place."

Many water purification systems use chemicals to remove pathogens, but Paul Kay stresses the use of bacteria found in nature to do the job. "Without bacteria we would get no nutrition. They are cleaning the water. The bacteria live on the roots."

With such messages, World Water Forum participants hope to build a future in which clean water is available for all who need it, all around the world.