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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 03/26/2010

World's Longest Toilet Queue

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Now that I have your attention with the headline...

Monday was the 18th annual World Water Day (WWD), a day designated by the United Nations to focus attention on the importance of sustainable management of freshwater resources. This year's theme was "Clean Water for a Healthy World," with the goal of raising the political profile of both water quality and quantity. Many WWD events were held around the world including -- believe it or not -- an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the World's Longest Toilet Queue. More on this later.

Most (but not all) of us in this country don't think about personal water usage, except perhaps whether the liquid filling the bathtub looks clear, and whether we prefer tap or bottled water. But not everyone in the world is so fortunate. It's estimated that 1.1 billion people, largely in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, have no access to clean water. As a consequence, over 4,000 children under five years old die every day (more stats here).

Keep reading for more on World Water Day...

While contaminants from industrial processes, mining, agriculture and urbanization play a significant role in poor water quality, including in the U.S, the biggest problem worldwide affecting water quality is lack of proper sanitation. Every year, 360 cubic miles of wastewater are produced globally. That's over 300 times the volume of water in Lake Erie. As much as 80% of wastewater, primarily in developing countries, is discharged untreated due to lack of regulations and resources. (If you've ever visited any of the countries labeled as developing, you may know firsthand the truth of this statement.)

Which brings us back to the attempts to create the World's Longest Toilet Queue -- just one of numerous WWD events (also, see the WWD photo gallery). Queues of at least 25 people, queuing from 10 minutes to 24 hours in a public place (standard fare for women's restrooms a theatre or sporting event?), were formed in multiple locations around the world from March 20-22. The toilet at the front of the queue did not have to be real; it could have been "mocked up or represented through a banner or picture."

At last count, the collective number of people joining the queue was 6,543, far surpassing the previous record of 868.

This and other WWD events were targeted at prodding governments worldwide to take action for ensuring access to clean water and safe sanitation at the first High-Level Meeting on Sanitation and Water, scheduled for April 22 (Earth Day) in Washington, D.C.

Even in the U.S., the daily demand for clean freshwater has steadily increased over the years from washers and dishwashers, toilets, showers/baths, agriculture, watering lawns, washing cars, etc. But the domestic supply is not infinite and may soon become a scarce commodity, especially in the Southwest from prolonged periods of drought, and elsewhere from a wide variety of pollutants.

There are plenty of things you can do to help conserve water. For a broader and in-depth look at freshwater, check out the latest issue of National Geographic Magazine.

By  |  11:00 AM ET, 03/26/2010

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