By Ronald Y. Pérez, WC&P Managing Editor
As the author of “CyberGuia,” Agua Latinoamérica’s equivalent to this column, I’m happily inundated with websites that present water and its subsequent treatment in such an international scope. Seeing that this is our “international” issue and WC&P International is distributed to over 90 countries across the globe, it’s only fitting that we dedicate at least one entire column to the efforts of these countries — in various stages of their development — outside of the United States.
For those familiar with Agua Latinoamérica, you may see a familiar organization whose website is reviewed here; however, instead of keying on only the Latin American countries, we’ll look at other regions of the world covered by this website as well. Meanwhile, the other two websites will look at an often-overlooked continent — Africa — as well as a more inclusive listing of countries and their governmental organizations.
UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization. Granted, this elongated title doesn’t really scream “water,” but it’s one of the more respected international organizations around with regard to water and the environment. As you can see, we have gone directly to the water portal portion of this site — with a decided nod to hydrology — as to shorten the search from UNESCO’s home page.
Aside from the graphic image at the top of the home page, my eyes scan the page from left to right as I’m greeted by a search function (almost always a beneficial feature) and two headings — In Focus and Resources. With plenty of hyperlinks but not an overabundance of text and side promotional items, I like the overall navigational feel of the page. In addition to English, I discover the site is also available in Spanish and French. I will stick to English for all concerned.
From the left column, I will work my way down. The search function, displayed here prominently, provides five different locales for information. They are “Water Portal,” “IHP (International Hydrological Programme),” “WWAP (World Water Assessment Programme),” “Water Events” and “Water Links.” Don’t be fooled, you may click on “Water Portal” and see that the screen doesn’t change. The search function does work, but you’re already located at the Water Portal page. IHP, on the other hand, goes one better by winning the redundancy award of sending visitors to yet another search page.
In fairness to the site designer, a few buttons are available above the search line box — ”About,” “Structure,” “News/Events,” “Publications,” “Databases,” “FRIEND,” “HELP” and “Partners.” For space reasons, I’ll highlight a couple of the more interesting buttons only. “News/Events” is more events than news, albeit a news archive is present.
Nevertheless, the event schedule is very complete, keeping in mind that we’re only discussing hydrological-themed conferences. The search function (yes, again) allows visitors to locate shows by year, region of the world, and type of event. Randomly, I went with 2003, the Arab States and conferences. It brought up 40 matches along with links for further information. Quite impressive! One of the many programs falling under UNESCO’s auspices is FRIEND, or Flow Regimes from International Experimental and Network Data. According to the page, the “research programme is an international study in regional hydrology. Its aim is to develop a better understanding of hydrological variability and similarity across different regions through the mutual exchange of data, knowledge and techniques.” Links are also provided.
Back at the home page, the WWAP follows IHP in the order of main buttons. Once you click on to the link, a brief mission statement outlines the group’s goals — assess the world’s freshwater resources and ecosystems; help countries develop their own assessment capacity, and publish a regular World Water Development Report. The WWAP’s home page also contains some extra buttons for a more in-depth analysis of the program.
Under WWAP, Water Events makes 339 selections available to visitors. Like the previous events button discussed, this one also allows you to browse by theme, geographical scope, date, type of organizer, and type of event. Water Links and Water Celebrations top out the main button list. In Focus and News occupies the middle of the home page and, finally, the right column becomes more self-promotional by touting UNESCO’s publishing and photobank resources (I do suggest you view the images from around the world though). Also available are an international glossary of hydrologic terms and a “virtual water forum.”
Technically, and as stated on the home page, this is The Water Page, which just happens to incorporate the African Water Page, lest anyone think this is solely about the continent itself. As I scan the entire page, I am struck by the amount of space on the lower left portion of the page. A better design layout here would have saved some unnecessary navigational meandering. Under what I perceive to be a news/events type of listing (last updated in May 2002, as of this writing) is a search function. You will more than likely need it as the home page seems a little discombobulated. Don’t get me wrong, the information is there; it just seems to be misplaced and/or de-emphasized.
To the left of the page, under “Contents,” are the numerous main buttons. News (as previously discussed), Editorial opinion, Features of Special Interest, Water related documents, Links: Water on the internet, Education in Water — where to study, Water in Developing Countries, Rivers and regions, Water pictures, Aquatic ecosystems, Water Policy and Law, Ecological Sanitation, International Water, Water in the UK, Groundwater, Disasters, Water in Religion, Water Issues and Water Basics.
For obvious reasons, I will key on the more intriguing buttons as a majority of them contain sub-topics that are visible once you roll the mouse pointer over the button. Features of Special Interest looks at basic water needs, arsenic in drinking water, and international water companies. By chance I came across some statistics (circa 1999) regarding water providers under the international water company button. Table 1 is just one example.
Meanwhile, the basic water needs sub-topic is the best reason to use the search function. It reads like an encyclopedia — great coverage but a lot to digest when surfing the Net. As I peruse through the buttons, it becomes quite clear that each topic is heavy in text. So much in fact that the clicker often freezes while scrolling down the pages.
A few of the other notable buttons include Aquatic ecosystems, which looks at groundwater and its role in certain ecological systems used in accruing water. Ecological Sanitation discusses toilet design and operation (not something that’s taken lightly in certain parts of the world), health risks and benefits, and food security. If this site had an “On Tap” column, it would be placed under this heading. For valuable links to hand pumps and wells, try the Groundwater button. Another interesting button is Water in Religion. Some topics include water references in the Bible and links to a variety of faiths and how they view water.
Directed more toward water companies in general, this site’s home page has an inviting, compact feel to it. Championed as “the website for the water industry,” Water Technology has a good number of prominent main buttons and the navigating is reduced to a bare minimum. It’s nice to be able to say that the main buttons are the only features on the page that contain links. No self-promotion or hyperlinks to other sites here.
Going in order, Industry News is the first button listed. Once I click there I’m welcomed with a series of company press releases that are, for the most part, in chronological order. In other words, not much news here. Next, Industry Projects encapsulates six different categories — future projects, municipal wastewater treatment, water supply, industrial wastewater treatment, water dam, and water transmission. Each of these is well represented with case studies from Australia to Tobago. If not for the advertorial nature of the Products and Services button, it would be a nice complement to this site. Instead, we get an activated carbon button, which coincidentally takes us to a slide show of Calgon Carbon’s drinking water systems. So not to single out Calgon Carbon, each subject matter — aerators and blowers, filtration and separation, monitoring and analysis, pumps, etc. — has at least a few companies touting their goods.
A-Z Company Index is pretty easy to figure out. The site’s Exhibitions & Conferences button goes through March 2004, but has slots up to December 2005. Slightly misleading but they make up for it by including show contact listings, contact names and website addresses. Whats (sic) New is another opportunity for companies to show off their wares and gain more exposure. Let’s say you’re a company owner and want some of this exposure. Wait no more at Add Your Company to this Site. Finally, International Careers is the classified ads page of this site.
A special note must be pointed out here. Near the bottom of the home page is another short series of minor buttons that include Organisations. For our purposes, this constitutes the international angle to the site since, once you click on it, an A-to-Z listing of countries pops up with their corresponding links. These include addresses, phone and fax numbers to national ministries, chambers of commerce, water-related business associations, etc.
Unfortunately, some are more sparse than others. I guess that explains why it isn’t a main button.
From hydrology to Africa to a manufacturer-driven website, we attempted to present a wide range of approaches on what some sites are doing to bring international concerns into all of our living rooms. As you navigate through them, it will be easy to see which ones emphasize what and how they go about it. Needless to say, it won’t take our next International issue to re-visit some global organization sites in future columns.
Sizing Up the World
In a word, GRAND (all caps). If you’re interested in hydrology on a global scale, this is where you need to be. UNESCO backs up its reputation with a thorough site. It’s short on the news flashes but it comes off as a smooth site with lots to share.
Isn’t it about time someone paid attention to the water concerns of a continent with a population approaching a billion people? You bet, and this is a nice start. OK, the whole site isn’t devoted to the continent and supercedes a clunky home page and overlapping main buttons.
Even with an advertising slant, there’s still enough here to make this site a worthy one. Many water treatment technologies and treatments are specified here, which makes for easy navigating. A simple home page is also pleasing to the eye.