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Diplomacy in Action

2011 UNESCO Youth Forum Finalist -- Kelsey Leonard


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Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Washington, DC
June 27, 2011

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Kelsey Leonard

"What is the greatest global challenge facing youth, and how can American youth help to address it?"

Water scarcity affects one in three people on every continent of the globe and poses the greatest global challenge to today’s youth and the security of their future. Water is embedded in most issues of concern to the world’s youth including poverty, health, food security, climate change, industrialization, cultural preservation, and education. UN Secretary General Ban Kimoon states, “In many countries, girls are forced to drop out of school owing to a lack of sanitation facilities, and women are harassed or assaulted when carrying water.” These practices are unacceptable. The challenges facing water security globally are not simply “questions of access” they are ingrained within society and are critical to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Water security will become more complex and solutions more difficult to implement as populations continue to grow and demand for water increases. However, the situation is not without hope, the global community can create sustainable change. A Native American elder once said, “You are going to see young people with old spirits – healers each with a talent and a gift. Some are given the gift to write, some to talk, some to lead, some to do art. And only together could these gifts bring about the healing of the Earth.” The time has come to call upon the youth of the world to share their gifts, to inspire innovation, and to lead the world towards a sustainable future. It is imperative we engage youth in the decision-making process creating solutions to global challenges that are youth defined and driven. Youth are the world's largest untapped resource they have the collective ability to realize the potential for a better world and a safer planet. In this way, the UNESCO Youth Forum is pivotal to water security because it gives youth a platform to not only voice their opinions but seek action. The greatest asset of today’s youth is their ability to exchange ideas and develop strategies for action across borders as global citizens. In 2010 the United Nations noted that “more people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war” calling such deaths an “affront to our common humanity.” American youth can be a part of securing humanity’s water resources for future generations. In their daily lives, young people can learn to conserve water resources, such as reducing household consumption. Comparatively, H2O for
Life, an organization that links schools in the U.S. with schools oversees, hosted the first annual Walk for Water in April 2011. This campaign raised money for water, sanitation and hygiene projects at schools around the world by asking American youth across the country to walk three miles – the distance many youth from the developing world have to travel to get clean water. American youth can be the agents of change promoting scientific innovation, research, technological advances, and greater political transparency that allows for youth representation and leadership. Our responsibility is to mobilize young people across the United States and
around the world to advance a water sustainability agenda.



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