Student Reporters Iliana Sepulveda and Arjun Bhargava contributed equally to this post. Imagine living in Marwar, an area in the Thar Desert that translates to the “Land of Death” in the Sanskrit language. Imagine being part of a village which does not have a single source of safe drinking water within a radius of 1.6 kilometers. This area of high temperatures, low and erratic rainfall, saline groundwater and sparse vegetation also happens to be the most densely populated desert in the world. These are the conditions under which Jal Bhagirathi Foundation has successfully brought clean water and sanitation through sustainable water management techniques and community participation to the Marwar Region.
By all accounts, Maude Barlow is one of the preeminent international firebrands championing the rights to water for both humanity and nature. She sat down with me on March 16 at the Alternative World Water Forum in Marseilles to enjoy some Mariachi and to talk some frank talk about water rights and why the market-based, private-sector argument is wrong-headed. (Audio of the interview available for listening at the bottom of this post.)
Barlow has been called the ‘Ralph Nader of Canada’ and the ‘Al Gore of Water,’ but neither of these titles really seem to do her growing international stature and her undeniable charisma much justice. Barlow is a figure in her own right and a dynamo that might leave these American counterparts in the dust at just about any forum of Congressional hearing. The title of this article proposes an alternative moniker – the Grand Dame of Water. Barlow, one of the driving forces behind the recent UN declaration on the human right to water, turned down the opportunity to debate World Water Council President, Loic Fauchon. She says that it’s an “old debate and they know where I stand.” By going to the World Water Forum, she believes she would have legitimized what she denounces as little more than a “trade show” backed by the World Bank. While Barlow felt the WWF-6 to was hollow and empty, the cross-town Alternative Forum had an undeniably vibrant energy. Barlow, a Canadian, opposes the Keystone-XL Pipeline, which if built, could run from her home country through the Ogallala Aquifer in the United States. She is even more opposed to the alternate route, which would “punch a hole through Rockies” and bring bitumen from the tar sands to Canada’s western coast for export to Asia. “There is no pipeline that you can build that isn’t going to leak at some point…the beginning part of the XL Pipeline has already leaked in Michigan,” she said. Barlow believes that pipelines are like arteries to tar sands development, which both feed the development process and require more extraction for infrastructure finance. She believes that the best solution is to “cut the arteries…and starve the beast.”
She is completely opposed to the idea of market mechanisms playing a role in the development and management of water resources. “It’s a dangerous development and I think the move to put a price tag on nature is insane,” she says.
I interviewed Her Excellency Ms. Edna Molewa, the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs of the Republic of South Africa, at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille. South Africa is unique — as a nation as it has a higher financial water budget than defense budget. This is a remarkable achievement for any nation irrespective of its economic status. Thanks to this investment in and prioritization of water, South Africa has made tremendous progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). It has met its goals for water but it lags on its sanitation targets and service deliveries. In this interview, Ms. Molewa and I discussed the challenges to achieving the sanitation MDG target, possible fudging of numbers by some countries in their MDG reporting, South Africa’s stance on climate change and its position on Sustainable Development Goals.
Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, thinks that World Water Forum organizers should have been ashamed that fracking, the colloquial term referring to unconventional natural gas drilling, was not at the top of the Forum’s agenda. I can understand her frustration. Over six days of panels, I could only find one dedicated to hydraulic fracturing, and it was a comparably small discussion at that—only lasting an hour with three panelists, compared to the two hour time blocks with upwards of ten panelists at the majority of other panels. The panel ,“Hydraulic Fracturing: The Case for a Global Ban,” consisted of Ms. Hauter from the United States, Borislav Sandov of the Bulgarian National Civil Committee against Shale Gas, and Corinne Lepage, former Minister of the Environment for France and current member of the European Parliament. The panelists discussed how they believe a global ban is in order while coming from countries with differing viewpoints: Bulgaria and France have both banned it, while the United States is actively drilling. Fracking is the process of extracting natural gas from deep shale formations. Used in combination with horizontal drilling, the technology has allowed access to natural gas reserves in shale formations previously considered uneconomical. The process requires millions of gallons of water and thousands of gallons of chemicals (per frack, per well).
Water, food, and energy are fundamentally inter-connected. Before I began learning more about this water, food, and energy nexus leading up to the World Water Forum, I didn’t understand the full implications of this. Water is necessary for providing food and energy to populations in modern societies. Water is used to grow vegetables and grains that we consume and to feed animals that we consume. Water is used to cool power plants that produce our electricity and to process the gasoline used in our vehicles. Have you considered how much virtual water you “consume” through the food you eat and the electricity you use? The impacts also occur in other directions: access to energy allows easier transportation of food to those in need and the ability to utilize effective water-purification technologies. In a world increasingly concerned about water, food and energy security, it is important to understand the connections between them all. A threat to any one of them would impact the other two. While much of the World Water Forum focused on those lacking access to water and sanitation, there are 1.3 billion people lacking access to electricity and 1 billion people undernourished worldwide. Because water, food, and energy issues affect and are affected by one another so much, it is important to consider than together rather than in isolation. The High Level Panel: Water, Food, and Energy Nexus on Friday, March 16 discussed these interactions and proposed solutions.
The speakers at the high level panel included individuals from a range of countries and backgrounds: Uschi Eid (UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water, Gérard Wolf (Electricité de France), Rodney Cooke (International Fund for Agricultural Development), Dilip Kulkarni (JAIN Irrigation Systems, India), Yasar Yakis (Turkish Parliament), Diego Bravo (Columbia), Jane Madgwick (Wetlands International), Thomas Chiramba (United Nations Environment Programme), Rhoda Tumusiime (African Union), Alain Vidal (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, Challenge Program on Water and Food), and Lee Yangho (Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Korea).
What is the Key to ensuring that we can continue to have access to water, food, and energy in the future?
The World Water Forum provided a unique opportunity for some of the authors and directors of wH2O: The Journal for Gender, Water and Sanitation at the University of Pennsylvania to meet face-to-face for the first time. StudentReporter.org Editor Caroline D’Angelo, co-chair and Editor-in-Chief of wH2O, sat down with Marcia Brewster, an wH2O author, to discuss green growth, water and gender. Ms. Brewster is a phenom in the water and development world: she has worked with the United Nations, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Water Association, Gender and Water Alliance and the World Water Council. She also is a contributing author to UNESCO’s World Water Development Report, and chaired the IANWGE Task Force on Gender and Water. While much of her work and expertise lies in gender and water, she has recently been a part of the Water and Green Growth Project.
Student Reporters Heidi Travis and Arjun Bhargava contributed equally to this post. The Volta River is spread over parts of six West African countries. The percentage of basin area in each of the six countries is as follows: 2.48% in Cote d’Ivoire, 42.9% in Burkina Faso, 3.41% in Benin, 41.6% in Ghana, 3.12% in Mali, and 6.41% in Togo. The river flows for a total distance of 1850km. With population in this area estimated to increase rapidly, (about 55% for Burkina and 57% for Ghana) water use will rise rapidly. Therefore, the necessity to sustainably and equitably manage water resources in the river basin is very important.
It is common knowledge that we are unsustainable consumers of water resources. Agricultural, household and industrial use deplete the Earth’s freshwater and experts state that water shortages will cause the next wars. One of the most water sensitive regions of the world is the Middle East. Rich in fossil fuels, but water-poor, the Arab world is already facing the cruel reality of insufficient water resources from unsustainable use and losses due to old and broken water infrastructure. These concerns were extensively discussed during the World Water Forum 6.
Abdoulkader Issoufou is working with Reseau Projection, with a group of 26 other young water professionals, to edit and translate the daily newsletter of the World Water Forum. Abdoulkader is from Niger, is otherwise employed by Save the Children, and runs the NGO (non-governmental organization) Ong Tassa. His story is different from many of his Reseau Projection colleagues, who are Americans, Europeans, and others from around the world. His reasons for engaging in the World Water Forum are hard-hitting and have affected his family for his whole life. He has come to the Forum to help create real solutions to water crises in the world.
With a cup of a native Finnish drink made from the flower of the fir tree, I sat down at Finland’s booth at the World Water Forum’s Exhibition Hall to learn about how the country has solved issues relating to the sustainable use of their waters. Finland has a unique position at the Forum in that it is one of the few countries to have plentiful reserves of fresh water, and whose total water use is only 2% of the total reserve. The country has been successful in protecting and managing their waters, and now feels like they are in the position to help other countries by teaching about best practices, particularly their experience in integrated water resources management and water and wastewater treatment. Finland is often at the top of the list for its environmental health, while the United States usually ranks around #50. This is due in large part to the country’s protection of land, how seriously it takes climate change, and how it responds to water pollution. As a student of public health and the environment, I was curious to learn more about Finland and their approach to such issues.