Connecting Water Resources: Day One
An excellent, neuron-firing launch to CWN’s Connecting Water Resources conference this morning. First up, UNU-INWEH’s Dr. Zafar Adeel addressed Canada’s role in the global water crises, highlighting some of the main issues–drinking water supply and sanitation, shrinking water resources, and degrading water quality–then focusing on the bright spots in the water landscape, including recent political uptake (the InterAction Council on water security and the Rio+20 Summit agenda, for instance), the new focus from the private sector, and the realization of the water-energy-food nexus.
Dr. Rita Colwell, winner of the Stockholm Water Prize in 2010, gave the second talk, focusing her attention on lessons from cholera and presenting the simple, sustainable method for reducing cholera outbreaks that she and her team discovered: folded saris that act as filters.
Cleantech Group’s Nicholas Parker brought a financial/investment slant to the morning’s theme, addressing the fact that we’re using more natural resources than are being renewed. “We’re liquidating our assets but calling it income,” he said. He also highlighted the sad fact that, despite Canada’s reputation as a water leader, venture capital investments in Canadian water technology in 2009 and 2010 were nil.
The three convened for a panel discussion following their presentations, answering questions from moderator Dr. Graham Daborn of Acadia University and members of the audience. Adeel asked Parker about the absence of investment in Canadian water tech. “The challenges are specific and general,” replied Parker, outlining the overall shortage of venture capital in Canada, but also indicating that looking at different models of bringing innovation to scale may change the investment environment. “Solutions will be more modular,” he said about the future of water tech. “Right now, we’re still stuck in an industrial paradigm with centralized systems, et cetera. In the future we’ll move from chemistry to biology, design that is elusively obvious, like biomimicry.”
The group also discussed the lack of scientific literacy among decision makers. “In the United States, the majority of congress members do not have an advanced degree. How do we bridge that?” asked Parker.
“It’s worse than you describe,” responded Colwell. Only 40 per cent of k-12 teachers have taken a course in science, and the No Child Left Behind policy places less emphasis on science, she remarked. “It’s a total disconnect and a serious concern.”
“The deeper challenge is science to policy translation,” said Adeel. Scientists have to be able to speak and translate in a way that is politically relevant, he added. “There’s a lack of institutional frameworks that allow this to happen.”
Watch the Water Canada blog for more as the conference progresses.