The New York Academy of Sciences recently published a multimedia report on a meeting they hosted with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health focusing on a range of issues at the intersection of water quality and health. Talks spanned global social, economic, and political trends, all the way down to the individual human cell. Topics discussed included the role of climate change in exacerbating cholera epidemics, threats to the U.S. water supply, high- and low-tech inventions for water treatment, and the implications of water shortages for economic development worldwide.
Perhaps the most gripping talk came from Erik Peterson at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC. His refrain throughout his talk was “In effect, we are on countdown.” As population rises, water reserves dry up, climate change proceeds, and progress on sanitation is slow in many parts of the world, all signs point to a crisis in many places in this century. This is not only a humanitarian issue, but could affect political stability, as populations will increasingly have few choices but to pursue water access aggressively. Currently, he argued, insufficient attention is being given to this issue at the policy level, either in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world. And these issues will not go away.
The eBriefing is now available on the New York Academy of Sciences website. I wrote the meeting summary, and you can also see a video interview I conducted with Peter Agre, in which he talks about several troubling examples of problems around the world related to water access. Audio and slides are also available from all of the talks, including Peterson's. It's really worth a look. See the eBriefing here.