Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dr. Gleick Proposes the Soft Path to Water

By Maria Monica Abrenica

Water is a human right, but millions of people around the world still have no access to this right. People worry that the day will come when water will no longer be available for us, but an expert believes this is not the case. There are bigger things we must turn our attention to.

These are the points Dr. Peter H. Gleick emphasized in his speech about water and its relevance to various aspects of life last Thursday, March 26. The talk started at 5:30 in the afternoon and was entitled, “How Access to Water Affects Gender, Security, Environment and Human Rights.” It was held at the Scholarly Communication Center in Rutgers University’s Alexander Library, where about fifty people attended.

Dr. Gleick is the president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California. He has a bachelor’s degree from Yale University as well as a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of California in Berkeley.

He began with an overview of the world’s water crisis and discussed it in terms of three major dimensions. He then closed his talk by providing plausible solutions to the problems surrounding water issues.

“Water is a very big topic. It’s connected to everything,” said Gleick.

Before proceeding with his speech, Gleick said that water and the issues surrounding it must not only be thought of as a scientific concern. “It’s an issue of culture,” he said. According to him, water and water issues are not just the concern of scientists and environmentalists. It is every citizen’s concern and responsibility. He emphasized that water is a human right.

He identified the human, environmental, and political dimensions as three main areas that help us understand the reality of the world’s worsening water crisis. According to Gleick, forty percent of the world’s total population do not have access to safe drinking water and about 2 million deaths every year are caused by water-related diseases that could easily be prevented. He acknowledged that the demands for water have only kept growing throughout the years. This fact, Gleick argued, is not the main issue. The real problem, he believes, is the way humans have kept taking from nature without thinking about the implications. This is the reason why our ecosystems are devastated, he said.

“You can’t deal with water unless you deal with politics,” Gleick said.

Gleick also believes that the world is faced with a worsening water crisis due to the disconnect between water laws and human rights. He traces the origin of setting political boundaries by watersheds to the story of John Wesley Powell, “the first man to go in the Colorado River.” Gleick said that “we are governed by 19th century politics” and that we seem to be stuck in it.

"Population is growing where water is scarcest.” Gleick said that this reality, along with disagreements about what to do with water and inadequate programs, causes the worsening water crisis throughout the world. He also said that the crisis is worse today because we have delayed dealing with the issue.

Having covered the truths about the world’s worsening water crisis, Gleick then proposed ways by which we can work to solve it. In a nutshell, he suggests that we take the “soft path.” Instead of exhausting all our financial resources on building new infrastructures, taking the soft path entails practices and solutions that complement infrastructure that we already have. Gleick said that if we must build new infrastructure, we must build it to a different standard.

“Absolute scarcity is not the real problem."

Gleick said that we are a rich world, but the problem is that riches are unevenly distributed. He believes that those who get more should also acknowledge a greater responsibility. According to him, this is only an initial step in working to solve the water crisis. He also promoted the use of low flow toilets and drip irrigation systems. Finally, he said that fair pricing for water must be implemented because this is the only way basic human needs can be met.

Dr. Gleick encourages everyone to practice a willingness to explore new ideas that will help us solve the water crisis. His speech was one of the events sponsored by the Office of International Programs at the School of Arts and Sciences. It celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights.

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