Sixth aquaNOW Audience Calls for Long-Term Thinking, Proactive Water Policies

OBAN, Scotland, United Kingdom

An international panel participating in the sixth “aquaNOW Audience,” held at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban, Scotland yesterday (September 24th), decried the lack of long-term thinking in addressing the world’s water issues, and called for more proactive policies to secure water’s role in the “green economy.”

The free, webstreamed event, an archived version of which is available here, was joined live by an international viewership.The aquaNOW Audiences series is produced by OOSKAnews Inc., moderated by OOKAnews CEO and Founder David Duncan, and supported by the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and aquaNOW.info.

Asked by Duncan to describe what issue with regard to water “keeps you up at night,” Scottish Government Hydro Nation scholar Christopher Schulz cited the fact that major cities in many parts of the world are unable to produce enough water for people, yet “public policy only takes action when the problem has become large.”

“How do you get people to react before there is a crisis?” he asked.

Commenting on a recent news story on water governance in Brazil, Schulz noted the need for “proactive solutions” and, at least in the case of Brazil, for more funding to implement solutions that are being developed at every level.

Governments must work to resolve crises that arise, but should not stop working once they reach that resolution, he said.

Renee Martin-Nagle, a PhD student in trans-boundary aquifer law at the University of Strathclyde, expressed concern about what growing scarcity will do to the price of water: “Will there be a global trade in water? What will be the price?”

And in terms of sustainability, “if water is the foundation of the green economy, what does that mean for the planet?” Martin-Nagle wondered whether, once human needs are covered, there would be sufficient water allotted to meet the needs of other species.

Commenting on a recent story detailing the economic and human costs of land degradation and desertification, shee noted that a multi-year drought was a contributing factor to civil war breaking out in Syria.

“Is this what’s to come?” she asked.

Sören Bauer, a communications expert in the water and sanitation sector, worried about how to explain “the rather complicated scientific evidence” around global water issues to non-experts, and use it lobby decision-makers on the political level and in the corporate sector to take action on these issues.

“Policy-makers take a short-term view most of the time,” he added, and have “no choice but to react.”

He suggested that the media can play a role in encouraging decision-makers to take a longer view by reporting not just on what is happening now, but on the historical origins and scientific reasons behind water crises worldwide.

As an example, in a discussion on a Nile water-sharing story, he highlighted the fact that “policy around the Nile in Egypt is treated in the media as a foreign policy issue -- Egyptian stakeholders don’t look at themselves and what they do with the Nile in Egypt.”

Schulz agreed that the media needs to report more on “less interesting,” i.e., not crisis-driven, stories.

SAMS Director Nicholas Owens highlighted what he called “the other carbon problem” -- high levels of carbon dioxide (half of the CO2 produced by humans) that end up in the marine environment. This has made oceans more acidic than they have been in 25 million years, and the impact of this is not yet fully understood, although it could be devastating for marine life.

The only “sensible” solution to arrest or reverse the damage is “to de-carbonize society,” he said.

Discussing a recent article on efforts to improve water quality in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Owens highlighted the problem with dealing only with inshore parts of this and other coral reefs, and not the larger issue of acidification that threatens them.

Coral reefs are key to the “blue economy,” supporting food security by providing protection and cover for fish and other marine species, and providing protection for coastlines, he said.

We have to ask, "What value do we think of the sea as providing?" he said.

 
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