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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Roundup: Expo Zaragoza '08 and Other Reasons to Join the Water Conversation

By Francisco Noguera

EXPOIf there was ever a good summer to be in Spain, 2008 was it. Not only because of the great celebrations that surely followed Torres' match-winning goal last Sunday, but also because of the remarkable Expo Zaragoza 08.

Titled "Water and Sustainable Development", the Expo will be a three-month long venue --already underway through mid-September-- full of movies, shows, live performances, talks, and discussions among experts from all over the globe to celebrate water and raise awareness about its role in our planet.The venue is timely in its purpose of "radically changing the way human beings think about and relate to this resource". Hence, the following roundup of upcoming events at the Expo and recent discussions that tend to affect the way we relate to water, regardless of where in the economic pyramid we happen to live.

Three months does sound like a long time to talk about any single subject. Well, the issue of water is so huge that events and discussions at the Expo have been arranged in a series of nine Thematic Weeks, to view water from all its different angles. Luckily for us non-attendees, PDF summaries of each week's discussions and conclusions are being made available to the public after each Saturday.

I specially look forward to week 5, which will focus on "Water Supply and Sanitation Services", perhaps the most relevant to the four billion at the base of the pyramid. It will address issues of regulation, financing models and management practices to promote sanitation and distribution services aimed primarily to rural areas. The conclusions from this week will come out just in time to ignite interesting conversations amongst the water entrepreneurs that will participate in this year's Global Social Benefit Incubator, which I hope to attend next August.

But the Expo is just one of several examples of the way the water conversation is actually changing in the media and elsewhere. Last week Rob pointed to a discussion brought up by Forbes (as part of a larger special report) on deregulating water services for the poor. While I tend to agree with his views on the pricing issue, I do believe that greater participation from the private sector must be allowed for community-scale treatment projects. This continues to be a major hurdle to entrepreneurs in the sector in Colombia, which is the case closest to my knowledge.

But the dialogue around water regulation is not limited to the base of the pyramid space. In fact, two weeks ago Newsweek asked whether water is the new oil (as did Yale two weeks before), raising similar questions to those of the Forbes piece-- pricing, ownership rights to the resource and so on-- this time for the wealthy State of Texas.

Recent coverage has also been around other water issues, like the way we actually carry and transport it for different purposes. Mayors from all over the United States are tackling the issue of bottled vs. tap water, while a new book on the same issue just hit the shelves. Check out the review offered by Treehugger recently. Solutions for the base of the pyramid have also been around a lot lately, as Guy Kawasaki featured the Q Drum. His post brought to my memory the great amount of innovative projects we saw last year at the Cooper Hewitt's Design for the Other 90% exhibition and the subsequent projects undertaken by Paul Polak's own D.Rev.

All in all, interesting times to visit Spain but specially to become interested and involved in the larger water conversation. While there is a generalized sense of crisis around it around the globe there is also hope arising for the BoP and otherwise, from initiatives like this year's GSBI and announcements of greater efficiency prospects in the desalinization industry.

After all, 97% of the water on the planet rests in the oceans and we seem to be running out of the other 3% known as fresh water.

More water to come this summer, so stay tuned.
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