Peter Gleick: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Water for Africa, and the Nobel Peace Prize

The remarkable president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen for their work on women’s rights. This award is rightful recognition of the commitment and dedication of these women to strengthening the rights and dignity of women in Africa, and around the world.

Peter Gleick
Dr. Peter Gleick is president of the Pacific Institute, an internationally recognized water expert and a MacArthur Fellow.

A few years ago, with the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Pacific Institute produced a remarkable book of gritty, compelling black and white photographs taken by Gil Garcetti throughout West Africa. The photographs in Water is Key: A Better Future for Africa tell the story of the tragedy that comes from the lack of safe water and sanitation, but also the beauty and hope that clean water offers: the smile of a healthy child, the simple act of washing, and the joy of people working together as a community for the common goal of safe water. The books were given to community groups, non-governmental organizations, and others working on African water issues to help them raise awareness and funds for their efforts.

The book also includes four short essays on water by President Jimmy Carter, Dr. Mary Robinson, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. In honor of President Johnson-Sirleaf’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize, I reproduce her essay on water from Water is Key, here.

Essay of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia from the book Water is Key: A Better Future for Africa

“The people of Liberia know what it means to be deprived of clean water, but we also know what it means to see our children to begin to smile again with a restoration of hope and faith in the future.  When I took office, Liberia began to recover from years of neglect. Our people have brought clean water into the heart of Monrovia to children who have never known water from a tap. Efforts are underway to expand water projects as much as possible throughout the country.

We know that most of our people lack safe water and sanitation, and these signs of progress are just the first step. We must accelerate our efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals. We didn’t start early enough, and we have a long road ahead. But the dreams of our people who have suffered and sacrificed so much are now achievable: to be able to live in peace, send our children to school, put a meal on the table for our families, get up in the morning, and go to a job that that enables them to feel like a part of society, and to have safe and reliable water. This is our challenge: to achieve these simple dreams that many people around the world take for granted.

We are moving forward. Our best days are coming. The future belongs to us, because we have taken charge of it. We have the commitment, we have the resourcefulness, and we have the strength of our people to share the dream across Africa of clean water for all.”

Originally published by Forbes on October 7, 2011.

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