Yesterday the World Water Council (WWC), parent organization of the World Water Forum, led members of the press on a tour of the Forum’s “Village of Solutions.” The Village represents an innovative new platform that highlights the central theme of the sixth Forum – solutions. After the tour, WWC President Loic Fauchon was kind enough to speak with me about making the Village a reality at the Sixth Forum.
A set of low, white structures lining a wood deck thoroughfare, the Village sits at the thematic and spatial center of the forum. It consists of seven sheltered exhibits: Library, Bank, City Hall, Factory, School, Slum and Agora. Each one represents a different element of a solution-oriented approach to thinking about the world’s water.
The Village is populated by a set of 70 solutions, chosen from several thousand entries submitted to the globally-oriented and newly created online water solutions platform: solutionsforwater.org. The solutions represented at the conference are concrete, obviously workable and easily-replicated while producing measurable gains, explains Sonia Birki from the WWC President’s office.
In keeping with the ancient traditions of the Mediterranean, the Agora sits at the center of the Village with an open-air town square and a coffee shop. Visitors mingle and meet to discuss their opinions. Large screens in the coffee shop display information from the various exhibits in the Village.
Potted palms dot Main Street and define seating areas in front of and around the Agora. A line of dry toilets stands across from the Agora provides an opportunity for coffee drinkers to experience one more solution first hand.
The Library is a clearing house of information where visitors research global water challenges and learn about science-based solutions. The School highlights the mission of the Forum to educate and disseminate practical solution-oriented approaches. Here visitors wander through a maze of white tulle and mirrors to find a lecture area where they can learn.
The highlight of the Village is undoubtedly the Factory. Here several creative technological solutions are on display for attendees to use and tinker with. “The factory creates a tactile and interactive learning experience,” says Birki. She points out the South African “Hippo Roller” that allows women and children to roll large quantities of water in a rolling cylindrical container attached to a lawnmower-style handle.
At the back of the factory, a low-tech water-powered “RAM” pump utilizes centuries old technology and modern day spare parts, including an old tire. The pump bubbles and splashes for on-lookers, circulating water in a continuous loop. RAM pumps convert velocity of water flowing downhill into stored pressure. The pressure builds and lifts the water hundreds of meters to high elevation communities, which are typically neglected by infrastructural improvements. Read more about the solution here. Currently RAM pumps are operating in the Philippines and Afghanistan.
Located at the edge of the Village, The Slum is another highlight that the WWC is showcasing. Here the focus is on the urban poor. Jean Hugues of Reseau Projection explains that 90% of the developing world’s population lives in slums. The total number of slum-dwelling urbanites is expected to double by 2020. The biggest challenge facing these urban communities is access to water and sanitation.
Hugues is careful to stress that the exhibit portrays a hopeful vision for slums. He shows off a prototype standpipe made by Veolia. These standpipes have historical precedence in Morocco, but this version is updated with a digital microchip reader. The reader will recognize unique cards issued to slum dwellers. Residents have a monthly allowance that they are able to draw from the standpipe, monitored by the microchip card.
Hugues points out the importance of government recognition for the urban poor. “In many cities, these populations are not acknowledged by the governments. They do not exist.” Consequently they have no rights to basic services. The microchip cards also provide an important technological link for slum residents who may not have had any previous interaction with digital technology.
What the standpipe does, explains Hugues, is transforms invisible poor communities of urban squatters into residents of a city with recognized rights to service.
In a press conference following the tour, WWC President, Loic Fauchon expresses obvious pride in the end result. “We had the idea for the Village two years ago. At first the idea did not gain a lot of support,” he explains. The idea did eventually come to fruition and it is a great success. It was a natural outgrowth of the conference and came to serve as the Forum’s thematic heart. Many attendees named it as one of their favorite portions of the venue and conference.