International World Water Day is held annually on March 22 to recognize the importance of water and the sustainable management of freshwater resources. The theme of World Water Day 2011 is "Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge." Since I cover water issues for the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, I sometimes talk to people here about my home state, Michigan, which borders the Great Lakes. China's rapid growth and increasing demand for resources present a number of challenges so on World Water Day I like to emphasize our shared interest in effective water management.
The Great Lakes are located in North America, on the U.S.-Canadian border. The five lakes -- Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario -- form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface and volume and hold 22 percent of the world's surface fresh water. The Great Lakes are integral to Michigan's economy, providing jobs for nearly 823,000 Michigan residents through fishing, tourism, and water for agriculture and manufacturing. The health and quality of life of Michigan's citizens depend on clean water and productive land that is sustainable far into the future.
Nevertheless, the lakes have also been put at risk by pollution from contaminated sediments, invasive species, inadequate sewage, and uncontrolled development. The State of Michigan is taking steps to protect the Great Lakes, but these are complicated challenges.
As a Foreign Service Officer, I see that water is a major concern not just in Michigan, but around the world. Growing populations, expanding economies, and climate change are putting water resources under increasing pressure. In just 20 years, the world's demand for freshwater will outstrip supply by 40 percent. The scarcity of clean, fresh water has hindered development and global economic growth.
Water scarcity is one of the greatest challenges of our time. One and a half million children still die each year from diseases related to poor drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene. No girl should fear going to school for lack of access to a toilet, and no woman should have to walk six kilometers to collect water for her family. Yet women and girls are disproportionally affected by water shortages.
To meet this enormous challenge, the U.S. government has made water a top foreign policy priority and is committed to protecting the world's water resources. As Secretary of State Clinton said, "It's not every day you find an issue where effective diplomacy and development will allow you to save millions of lives, feed the hungry, empower women, advance our national security interests, protect the environment, and demonstrate to billions of people that the United States cares, cares about you and your welfare. Water is that issue."