Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Responsible management of water: a resource that recalls us to dialogue

by Silvia Peppoloni*

This article was published in ReWriters Magazine, in Italian and English:

* Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Rome (Italy); Secretary General of the IAPG - International Asssociation for Promoting Geoethics. Email: silvia.peppoloni@ingv.it

Silvia Peppoloni
In these times of pandemic, it is increasingly clear that a health emergency is not so different from other challenges that affect the planet as a whole and that geoscientists, Earth experts, as well as politicians, economists, local administrators, citizens are called to face, sometimes on a daily basis, the growing effects of climate change, environmental pollution or natural and anthropogenic risks: often similar uncertainties and questions are at stake, the same needs and expectations, with the difference that SARS-CoV-2 ( or Covid19) is seen by most as a real, tangible threat, while issues like global warming are mistakenly perceived as distant, not so pressing, ultimately as problems that can be postponed
Yet the ethical aspects and social repercussions involved in all these challenges that humanity is facing are enormous: the decisions and measures that must be adopted to reduce the risk to which human life is subjected on the planet cannot ignore evaluations that embrace also ethical perspectives. Ultimately, what is at stake is the type and quality of the choices to be made, their scientific basis and the widespread social consensus that must accompany them.

The current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is a unique opportunity to reflect even more deeply on the social and ethical value of scientific knowledge, on the meaning of the profession of scientists, on the ways in which they must interact with political decision makers and citizens. The protection of human life, respect for natural processes or sustainability are the reference values of the civil commitment of a scientist at the service of society. The scientist has ethical and social responsibilities that derive from possessing specific knowledge and experience, capable of protecting citizens and the environment, as well as ensuring sustainable development of human communities. Whatever their role, researchers, professionals, educators, in all circumstances scientists are called upon to make their cultural baggage available to society to face and live with the health, environmental and economic challenges of our times. The interaction between science and society thus becomes the reference core of their action, the yardstick to which to relate the effectiveness of their service. Ultimately it is taking care of others, it is the ability to establish a dialogue, to give back to society a part of the accumulated knowledge that society itself has supported by investing in the training of the individual.

One always wonders how aware scientists are of these responsibilities, how capable they are of minimizing the human vanity of their knowledge, how much they manage to circumscribe the perimeter of their certainties, how willing they are to seek common plans for dialogue.

There are areas in which the awareness of one’s responsibilities as scholars or managers of a common good becomes crucial, such as that concerning the management of the water resource, since water is deeply connected with human life and social well-being, not only in a vital sense but also in economic, cultural and educational terms.

The management of surface and groundwater is an activity of great complexity, which must have as objective its prudent and responsible use, which must guarantee sufficient water for all, taking into account the needs of the territory, sometimes conflicting, which implies dialogue between all the social partners involved, requires efforts to find a balance between different beliefs and expectations, demand inclusiveness and mutual respect.

There are numerous conflicts in the world where the water resource is a matter of contention, situations in which water is used as a weapon for political pressure or where the water resource has been damaged by conflicts. And it cannot be excluded that in the more or less near future, when climate change begins to show even more intense effects, the reduction of reserves, uncertainty in the supply of resources, combined with phenomena of political and social instability, may constitute the trigger for an increase in the number of conflicts. It is therefore evident that the management of water resources, access to drinking water and sanitation are issues that involve not only technical and scientific aspects, but also problems of social equity and intergenerational justice. A scientist who works in the field of hydrogeology is now called to broaden his/her skills beyond the technical-scientific dimension, to analyze problems looking at a broader horizon in which sociological and anthropological reflections also enter.

Groundwater is an example of a renewable resource: its proper management must ensure a balance between water withdrawals and supplies, protection from pollution and salinization, continuity of use of water for future generations. Its mismanagement can cause enormous and often irreversible damage. But an idea of the world develops around water, a structuring of social relations, a modality of community behaviour, which must be taken into account when the hydrogeologist scientist puts himself at the service of the human being.

To date, the world population consumes 4.600 cubic kilometres of water per year, of which 70% for agriculture, 20% for industry and 10% for domestic use. According to the United Nations World Water Development Report 2019, “….. global water demand is projected to continue to increase at the current rate until 2050. Over 2 billion people live in countries suffering from high water stress and three out of ten people do not have access to drinking water”. The same report also indicates that stress levels will continue to rise with the increasing water demand and the effects of climate change.

Water is an inalienable human right, a guarantee of the dignity of every individual. And even if each nation has the right to develop policies to safeguard its interests and priorities, no one can contravene the fundamental right of access to water, that vital resource on which life on Earth depends.

The experts who work in any capacity in the field of water are called to manage with attention and great sense of responsibility the problems related to the environmental impacts produced by human interventions on the natural processes that govern surface and underground resources, as well as to develop strategies to harmonize the expectations and requests of all those who live around this precious resource.

Dialogue between all the subjects interested in a problem is possible only when there is a common exchange plan, a sharing of human values, a concertation of objectives. It is the only way to guide choices and apply good practices and strategies with the aim of a future that is truly globally sustainable.


Other articles published in the IAPG Blog:

IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article . Clear and profound . Should be considered by several governments. Thanks, Silvia.