'Water Wars' are not limited to Africa and can be affected by local action | St. Louis Public Radio

'Water Wars' are not limited to Africa and can be affected by local action

Oct 6, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: October 6, 2008 - "There's a $5,000 college scholarship for the first one to sit in the front row," Jon Sawyer, director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, jokingly remarked as students from Rosati-Kain and Maplewood Richmond Heights high schools filtered into the auditorium on the campus of St. Louis University High School. Mr. Sawyer seems to know very well where high school students' priorities lie. This hour with reporters, however, gave us American students a unique opportunity of gaining first-hand insight into circumstances that command the attention of citizens of Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

Three reporters -- Alex Stonehill, Sarah Stuteville and Jessica Partnow -- were the focus of our attention. They stood on the vast expanse of stage in front of a white screen, onto which a presentation was projected. The next hour was full of information regarding the severely underreported issue of water scarcity in Eastern Africa.

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting , the organization sponsoring these journalists, specializes in issues that are not the focus of the mainstream media. The "Water Wars" project is a prime example of reporting at its most personal. The journalists quickly opened a question-and-answer format, inviting a dialogue between the students and the reporters.

The title of the project, "Water Wars," may seem extreme to some; the journalists themselves thought it might appear hysterical without context. Throughout the presentation, however, it was explained that several major world conflicts could in some way be traced back to water concerns: The Darfur, Rwanda and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are all in some way related to or exacerbated by struggles over water supply. With this background, the title no longer seems extreme.

Among the loads of information students were given were a few outstanding facts.

As opposed to the 158 gallons of water an American uses a day, Ethiopian citizens average only five gallons; five gallons being the minimum, according to the World Health Organization, that a human should have for survival.

The reasons for water scarcity or surplus are many and varied: Climate change, lack of infrastructure within a nation, population growth or expanded growth of heavily water-consuming cash crops.

The facts were not enough; we wanted to know how we could take part in a solution.

According to the reporters, the best action plan is to reduce our carbon footprint, thereby slowing the effects of global warming, one of the major factors of decreasing water supply. Another option is using the political rights given to us as American citizens to spread awareness and influence the government. Petitions to lawmakers, letters to representatives, and rallies to enhance understanding and foster support are all concrete ways to become personally involved in a resolution to the "Water Wars."

Another opportunity to become in involved comes through the Pulitzer Center's website at www.waterwars.pulitzergateway.org . Visitors to the website are given the chance to ask questions and receive direct answers from reporters, post video responses to the water issue, and blog with other participants. It is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the "Water Wars" issue.

The reporters from the Pulitzer Center On Crisis Reporting brought the story of populations in Eastern Africa that have lived their lives by water and are now facing new challenges concerning this resource. As one man directly affected by water scarcity in that region stated in a video interview, "There is no pasture when there is no rain." With no pasture, this man and thousands like him are unable to make a living. This lack of water may be difficult to grasp for citizens of St. Louis, with our rivers and frequent flooding. Nevertheless, we are called to be global citizens; a task made much easier by the Pulitzer Center, and enjoyable by its engaging, knowledgeable reporters.

About the author

Joyce LaFontain is a senior at Rosati-Kain High School. She is also a member of Civitas, an organization that encourages students and adults to engage in democracy.