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    Water is the most uniting factor of human life. It's so essential, yet the statistics on waterborne illness are staggering. The lack of access to clean, safe drinking water and proper sanitation is one of the biggest killers of children under the age of 5. The non-profit WaterStep, based in Louisville, has worked tirelessly since 1995 to improve this situation. The annual IF Water Conference, allows attendees to participate in the continually progressing conversation on water as part of IdeaFestival.

    The room before the conference

    This year, the third annual IF Water Conference, featured dynamic speakers on the issues of sanitation, conservation, and water exploration. These speakers present the multi-faceted world of water research and highlight the pluridisciplinary nature of the solutions. Since the problem affects humans, it is not only scientists and engineers who can contribute, but any other human with the desire to help.

    Of course, there was water aplenty on the tables.

    Rose George is a journalist and author with a BA in Modern Languages and an MA in International Politics. While she was writing for the COLORS magazine, a bilingual global magazine, she became interested in the topic of sanitation and toilet practices around the world. George tackled this much-neglected topic her book The Big Necessity: the Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters.

    To hear George speak frankly about "unmentionable" activities every human goes through is at once refreshing, funny, and horrifying. It is horrifying because of the statistics: 2.5 billion people don't have access to an adequate toilet, and a latrine is a luxury in many parts of the world. Clean water does not help if people contaminate the water supply. It's a compelling conversation that needs to continue. George equates the Western World's prudishness on this topic to physically putting the flush toilet behind closed doors, but it won't kill us to bring it out and "talk crap."

    Watch George's TED talk on sanitation here.

    The speakers were generous enough to take pictures with attendees.

    Rose George (and me)

    Of course, developing countries aren't the only ones who have water-related problems. Pat Mulroy, former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, has dealt with the continuing demands put on the Colorado River Basin. Twenty-seven percent of the nation's GDP comes from this area, so conservation efforts are essential. It is eye-opening to hear of the cross-state and international negotiations she made to keep the water at a safe level when we have a seemingly inexhaustible source flowing through Louisville. If anything is a reminder to think about where your water comes from and to treat it with due respect, this is.

    Another item on the long list of things the general public doesn't consider about water is what lies under the surface. Oceanographer and aquanaut Fabien Cousteau spoke about his project Mission 31. The grandson of the famed pioneer Jacques Yves Cousteau may have been born into legacy, but Cousteau's contributions to the field are his own. He spoke about thinking of every body of water as one full of life under the surface. The oceans house a stunning number of the world's species with at least 90% of the world's living space. Our environment is a closed loop cycle, like the water cycle, and it is imperative to learn more about the ocean to protect it.

    Fabien Cousteau with my mother and me

    WaterStep also spoke about their project in Costa Rica and the general format of their projects. Their aim is to be sustainable; it is not uncommon to read about the pitfalls of "volontourism" and the harm badly managed service trips cause. However, WaterStep trains leaders in the communities they help to use safe water and sanitation to empower them. This includes repair methods for potable water systems already in place. WaterStep views their work from a holistic perspective; they look at the big picture while also considering the individual needs of the inhabitants in certain regions. 

    WaterStep does a great deal to advance not only the living conditions of people in developing countries, but also the research surrounding the world of water. It is incredible to think that there is a great non-profit in Louisville that works passionately towards solutions in water and sanitation. People from our town are working on solutions internationally, and it's encouraging to know they welcome anyone to the conversation.

    If you missed the conference, you can watch it here.


    Photos courtesy of: WaterStep, Rebecca Ball, and Kay Ball

    Rebecca Ball's picture

    About Rebecca Ball

    As great lover of books and adventure, I grew up wanting to be anywhere else. I satiated some my wanderlust in the castles and expansive forests in Europe over the past few years. Now, I live in the city that will always be home with a cat who thinks she's a person.

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