By Kim Chham
Water is the most important natural resource, as many people argue. Like many other natural resources, it is limited and has become scarce more recently. Like issues with sustainable energy, scientists and environmentalists have been putting in a lot of work in finding new and sustainable ways for sourcing water. As I learned yesterday in the Flowing to Peace session with Professor Jeff Langholz, there have been new technologies invented to find water, especially from the sky.
Water is the most important natural resource, as many people argue. Like many other natural resources, it is limited and has become more scarce recently. Like issues related to sustainable energy, scientists and environmentalists have been putting in a lot of work on finding new and sustainable ways for sourcing water. As I learned on Wednesday during the Flowing to Peace session with Professor Jeff Langholz, there have been new technologies invented to find water, especially from the sky.
Professor Langholz started his talk by brining all participants outside to play a short game or quiz, which taught us of the concept of expanding the pie. What he meant by that in conflict negotiation was to find other ways to increase the size of the natural resources we currently have and are fighting for. In the context of water, he introduced some new places that we can harvest water, such as from rain, fogs and atmospheric condensation. Apparently there are these modern machines created and being created to harvest water from these sources I just mentioned. Isn’t that great that we can expand the pie? Many conflicts have been caused by water, thus these new technologies can maybe solve those conflicts or even prevent some conflicts from occurring in the first place. I believe that that’s why some of these scientists have created these new technologies. Some have started it with the best intentions, to contribute to conflict prevention and peacebuilding.
However, like many other projects intending to build peace and solve conflicts, they can bring more issues or conflicts.
To be honest, it was refreshing to hear a presentation like the one that professor Langholz gave us on Wednesday. I didn’t even know that we could harvest water from some of the sources that he had mentioned. Moreover, I knew that humans are capable of building great technologies, but I was still in awe of some of these smart technologies. In the deepest part of me, I want this to be the answer. I wanted these technologies to work and people to share them around without fighting. But then, the critical side of me appreared shortly after. Unfortunately, I see so much potential of conflicts that can come with these new ways of finding water.
I mentioned a few of doubts during the session, such as conflicts with exploitation of natural resources needed to build these machines, similar to the conflicts we have with sourcing our iPhones. Another one that I asked about was a potential conflict with more developed countries expecting less developed countries to afford these technologies too. After the session, I kept thinking and reflecting about this and a few more potentials conflicts popped in my mind. What if the industry of atmospheric water harvesting become monopolized? Wouldn’t water be even more expensive for individuals to afford? What if this will become some type of colonization, resources colonization? I understand that anyone can have access to harvesting their own water from the atmosphere around them; you don’t need to buy a part of atmosphere like you buy land. On the other hand, what if rich individuals or companies buy spaces of land and fence off huge areas in developing countries to harvest water to sell? These potentials to me sound like serious conflicts and ways of resource exploitation!
Unfortunately, the power structures in the world right now have been very unequal. Fighting over a natural resource as important and scarce as water might only give more power to those who have so much of it already and take away even more from those who have so little. I agree that finding these new ways of sourcing water is a huge accomplishment and this provides the world a great potential to solve so many problems. However, we need to be cautious about who gets their hands on these machines and how to make sure that this new discovery and invention is spread to those who might not be able to afford it themselves. We need to be cautious about how to use this new technology to build peace and not to create conflicts. I understand that it will be a hard road to navigate but we need as many hands on deck as possible to ensure equity and prevent corruption and monopoly.