NEW YORK – The Clinton Global Initiative, a conference that seeks to come up with tangible solutions to global problems, got under way Wednesday with the first commitment being announced by first lady Laura Bush.
Speaking to a crowd of about 1,000, including a number of world leaders, Bush announced a public-private partnership aimed at bringing clean drinking water to communities in sub-Saharan Africa.
The program, called Play Pumps, will install specially designed playground equipment that will use the force generated by children at play to pump clean water from beneath the ground.
"Play pumps are fueled by an endless energy source: children and play," Bush said.
The program will be financed by $16.4 million from U.S. government agencies and the Case Foundation and the MCJ Foundation.
Former President Bill Clinton also announced four other international aid programs at the start of the conference, involving a combined $350 million in pledges.
Started last year, the conference brings together government, business and nonprofit sectors in an effort to spur action on poverty, health care, global warming and ethnic conflict.
The list of invited guests, capped at about 900 people, includes such diverse voices as Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan, cyclist Lance Armstrong, CBS News anchor Katie Couric, actor Don Cheadle and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was to attend, as was former Vice President Al Gore and Bill and Melinda Gates.
Participants are expected to make a specific commitment toward advancing the solutions to the problems identified during the conference. Last year's conference resulted in 300 commitments totaling about $2 billion. Organizers hope to match that this year.
Only a few of last year's participants reneged on their commitment, according to Jay Carson, spokesman for the initiative. They were not invited to return.
The conference is focused on four main areas: poverty alleviation, mitigating religious and ethnic conflict, energy and climate change, and global public health. Public health is a new addition this year; last year's fourth topic, governance, was to be incorporated into all of the discussions.