By Magdalena Castillo
This past Sunday, I picked up a laminated menu for a grill on Alvarado St. I scanned the entirety of it, until my eyes reached the bottom where in small print it read something along the lines of “Water is a scarce resource here, it will only be brought out if requested!” My privilege allowed this to be the first time that I ever had to deal with a “water shortage” problem, and I took a moment to think about how this applies to my daily life and its significance in relation to the Summer Peacebuilding Program.
I live in a state where water is unlimited, fresh, clean, and abundant. Here in California, I have the privilege to at least ask for a drink of water. In other parts of the world, accessing and affording a clean source of water isn’t as easy, and for some, impossible. Just because I have the ability to drink good water, doesn’t mean I should turn a blind eye and ignore the fact that others still struggle.
In terms of peacebuilding, it may be hard for some to see water’s place in conflict, considering it isn’t a conflict in and of itself, but a factor that causes conflict. Wars are fought over lack of available water, riots start in the street because of increased prices, and communities are left in upheaval.
What I learned in Professor Langholz’ presentation was that what I thought was a water shortage was actually not a water shortage at all. Water is just a distribution issue; water doesn’t run out, we have the same amount of water we’ve always had and always will have. This makes solving this conflict so much harder than I had anticipated.
Professor Langholz inspired me and left me speechless after an impressive presentation on new ways to solve the water distribution problem. For example, there are apparently ways to collect the water produced from fog overnight. There’s a small machine that collects air and stores it two meters into the cold ground and transforms it to water. There’s even his very own innovation (and that of his students), a large tank stored on private property that collects water for only two cents a liter. Throughout the presentation is was easy to fall into the trap of only imagining what the future could be instead of considering what the past had been in order to assess whether those options are good ideas or not and what the consequences would include. Some of the concerns I had was, yes, the air is free. But so is the sun, and years after solar panels were invented and on popular demand it’s a luxury only the wealthy and middle class can afford. How do we make sure that we don’t repeat the same pattern with water and make sure the communities already struggling with accessing water are taken into consideration a few years from now? How do we ensure that governments will not take control of the water and these methods to collect it? However, when it comes to the water waste issue, it seems more promising (things like the Blackwater recycling system). Even if it’s just the elite that use it, considering the upper class and large corporations use an excessive amount of water, lots of water could be saved and any is better than none.
This presentation left me feeling reflective more than anything; reflective about the future of water conservation, distribution, and environmental sustainability, but also about the difficulty of the field of peacebuilding. It also made the concept of “interconnectedness” to life, as I realized that when something is fixed for one group, another group may not receive the same benefits. Everything we do affects something and it is important for me to recognize that.