Imagine life without safe water. You can't simply turn on the faucet to get a drink, to cook or to bathe. Both you and your children are sick from water-borne diseases. Very likely you will die an early death. If you are female, you spend most of the day walking to get water, preventing you from going to school as a young girl or working at income-generating activities as an adult.

The United Nations reports that today 1.1 billion people, one-sixth of the world, have inadequate access to safe water. Unsafe water and poor sanitation cause 80 percent of all illnesses and deaths in the developing world. Diarrhea alone kills more than 2 million children a year. A child dies every 14 seconds from preventable water-related disease.

The statistics are overwhelming. As part of one of its eight Millennium Development Goals, the UN is trying 'to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation' by the year 2015. The first step is raising awareness, so it established March 22 of each year as World Water Day.

Locally, World Water Day will be celebrated with a forum at Lake Grove Presbyterian Church. Two guest speakers, Emmanuel Opong and Lutangu Lubasi, will address these crucial issues from very different perspectives. Mr. Opong, a native of Ghana, is currently the World Vision International Program Officer for five countries in Africa. Previously he managed the $15 million Hilton Foundation/World Vision funded Rural Water and Sanitation program in Ghana and West Africa. Mr. Lubasi, a native of Zambia, is currently the manager of the World Vision Area Development Project in southeastern Zambia. He works directly with villagers to help organize local committees, which implement borehole installations and manage sanitation systems.

As the UN stated in a recent report: Access to water is a basic human need and a fundamental human right. We who are privileged to live in an area where safe drinking water is taken for granted need to realize that much of the world is not so privileged. I encourage each of you to come to the forum to learn what is being done, what plans there are to meet that goal and what we can do.

Here are the details for the World Water Day Forum: March 22 7 p.m., Lake Grove Presbyterian Church, 4040 Sunset Drive, Lake Oswego.

Diane and Bill Savage are residents of Lake Oswego.

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