AAUW’s UN Youth Representative Brings Global Student Voices Together about Clean WaterMay 03, 2018
At a time when teenagers are revolutionizing social media activism, organizing school walkouts, and mobilizing nationwide marches for their right to a safe education, one thing is universally clear: Youth voices are essential to solving the world’s problems.
This passion was echoed last week at the Students Seeking Solutions conference at the United Nations, organized by AAUW Youth Representative to the UN Veronica Mckinny. AAUW challenges our youth representatives to take on a project during their term, and Mckinny did just that. This conference, the first of its kind, was designed to bring together voices of college students from around the world to discuss the socioeconomic impact of and solutions for one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): in this case, SDG 6, ensuring universal access to clean water and sanitation.
A senior at Lehigh University studying physics and cognitive science, Mckinny has loved science from a very young age but didn’t quite understand the global impact of what she was learning until she began her role as an AAUW youth representative two years ago. “Sitting in conference rooms like these, it became apparent that science as a whole impacts every aspect of human society, from our tech to our medicine to our language. In order to have the biggest positive effect, our science cannot be in a vacuum, separated from our fellow human. We scientists, in order to make the world a better place, need to consider economic, social, and cultural parameters in our work. It is only then that we can truly effect change,” Mckinny said in her opening remarks at the April 20 conference.
The water crisis is indeed one of the most pressing issues the world is facing today: 1 in 9 people lack access to safe water, and 1 in 3 people lack access to a toilet, according to Water.org. From Flint, Michigan, to Cape Town, South Africa, we have seen the devastating impact that a lack of potable water can have in a community. During the daylong conference, approximately 320 students, experts, and stakeholders from around the world shared innovative scientific and policy solutions to address this issue. Students discussed everything from creating 3-D printed, biodegradable water filtration systems to using crushed moringa seeds for cleaner drinking water for countries in tropical and subtropical regions. The youth participants proved over and over again that clean water can be achieved with technology, advanced research, and solutions catered to local communities.
Access to clean water and sanitation disproportionately affects women and girls, a point that resonated throughout the conference. Women and girls fetch the majority of water for households in rural areas of the world, walking on average for two to three hours a day. This keeps them from attending school or working a job and can put women’s lives in danger, as they often walk alone and by foot. Ultimately, lacking access to clean water is holding back the development and progress of women and girls worldwide, and it means women and girls must be a part of the solution.
“Solving the global water crisis is certainly achievable,” said Elliott Harris, assistant secretary-general for economic development and chief economist in the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “But the problem lies with implementation.” Implementation takes time, money, and advocacy on a local, national, and global level, he noted. We have no hope of achieving any of the SDGs, including clean water, without the input, support, and involvement of today’s youth, Harris added.
That’s why the engagement of AAUW UN youth representatives is so important. “The voices of youth at the United Nations are essential, as they conduct research, provide innovative solutions, and grow into leaders who will solve complex global problems and create a thriving, healthy, and equitable world for us all,” said Abigail Lewis, Ph.D., the vice president of campus and leadership initiatives at AAUW, at the conference.
AAUW would like to thank Lehigh University, United Nations Academic Impact, United Nations Environment Programme, the Royal Academy of Science International Trust, and DPI NGO relations for their support of this conference.
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