Water Security: An Interdisciplinary Approach

March 30, 2022

To commemorate World Water Day, UChicago Center in Delhi and the STAGE Lab at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering screened STAGE’s short film, “Downstream,” by Ellen Askey, BA’20, followed by a panel discussion with scientists, conservationists, and artists.

Speakers:Sanjay Joshie, Executive Director, Foundation for Ecological Society, Dinesh S. Yadav, Writer/Director/Editor, Supratik Guha, Professor, Pritzker Molecular Engineering and Senior Advisor, Argonne National Laboratory’s Physical Sciences, The University of Chicago

Moderator:Nancy Kawalek, Professor and Distinguished Fellow in the Arts, Sciences and Technology, Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, The University of Chicago

The panel discussion began with finding the causes of water issues. Dinesh said the water is being polluted by putting fertilizers on crops which pollute the water. Supratik mentioned the major sources for contamination of water: Nitrate and phosphate, which are used in fertilizers, contaminate water.  Other aspects of water contamination are industrial and city pollution. Sanjay added that in rural areas water availability is a big question/issue rather than water insecurity because of the degradation happened in forests, usage, and wastage of water are also some of the examples.  We don’t recognize the struggle of people from areas who are contributing to the water for the downstream people.  There is also an imbalance in the usage of water between upland and downstream people.

Talking about how awareness could be spread among people and what behavioural changes should bring in, Supratik suggested that commitment is required from the community as well as the Government. Dinesh said that the community which uses the water on a bigger scale e.g., farmers and industries should be targeted rather than people using water resources to feed their families. The Government should take initiative to create campaigns to educate people about water conservation. Sanjay stated that instead of asking others to change, first, we need to bring the change and educate ourselves. There is a need to consider water as a common property rather than private property, this mental shift is required and influenced to make payment of ecosystem services a reality rather than only concept.  He further stated that decision-making should be data-driven and data analysis should be available (if not, it should be generated), water consumption in urban areas needs to be optimized rather than maximized.  These behavioral changes need to bring in.  Sanjay also put a point that we need to think about how livelihood in rural areas shapes up to reduce the dependency on cities and there should be ways for people from rural areas to be independent and focus on their agricultural land rather than moving to cities for their livelihood.

The panel discussion was concluded with the suggested solution to manage water insecurity by rain harvesting, educate people about the importance of water conservation, awareness campaigns run by Government bodies, put in business models, create data, decision making for the behavioral change. It was also stated that water management must have people involved at the grass-root level and end-users rather than bureaucrats or administrators and accountability from Government bodies should be set in for the people and education can definitely bring in the change.