Pulitzer Center Update

Front-line perspectives: Journalists on water

For Pakistani television journalist Shehryar Mufti it's the underreported role of water resources in his country's long-running conflict with India over Kashmir.

For Togo radio journalist Francois Agmegnignon it's his government's failure to address the fact that so many of his people lack access to clean drinking water.

For Munawar Shohinovnamov of Tajikistan it's the fact that glaciers are the main supply of the country's water supply—and those glaciers are melting fast.

These were among the journalists making their voices heard this past week in Istanbul, as part of the World Water Forum. Click on their video comments here, or go to our "Water Wars" web portal to view them all—and to join the conversation yourself.

Media21 is a Geneva-based organization dedicated to better global journalism through workshops and field trips on the world's systemic challenges, bringing journalists from diverse countries and media platforms to engage those issues first-hand.

The Istanbul Forum was one of Media21's biggest initiatives yet, a group of nearly 40 journalists including four associated with projects of the Pulitzer Center. It proved a memorable exercise in group learning, and of putting a local face on water's global challenge.

Media21 and the Pulitzer Center are both dedicated to finding new ways of engaging the public at a time when traditional news media outlets are rapidly scaling back their ambitions when it comes to global coverage. The World Water Forum was a case in point – an occasion that highlights one of the world's most pressing issues, the 1 billion people who lack access to clean water and the 2.5 Joetreasterbillion without adequate sanitation, and yet one that virtually none of the world's major media organizations covered first hand.

You could find excellent daily coverage of the Forum, for example, from veteran New York Times correspondent Joseph Treaster – not in The Times, however, but in the One Water website (1h2o.org) Treaster now edits in his new role as journalist in residence at the University of Miami's Knight Center for International Media.

The Knight Center's One Water initiative is partnering with the Pulitzer Center too, as are groups like Water Advocates with an interest in raising the visibility of the sanitation and health aspects of water. John Sauer, a spokesman for Water Advocates, helped raise money to bring journalists to Istanbul and then recruited Johnsauer journalists to fill the spots. Other financial sponsors include the Pulitzer Center, Frontline/World and the International Center of Photography.

The journalists came here to learn, of course, but they brought their own knowledge and experience, too – and hearing their stories gave insight into the specific challenges of their home countries.

Manlin Xiong is a journalist with the state-owned China Central Television, for example, but she said one of the most striking aspects of the Forum for her was the debate over the respective of state and business in supplying water and sanitation services.

Kenya radio journalist Winifred Onyimbo said her biggest frustration is editors who see water and sanitation as "women's issues," not worth the attention devoted to politics and business. She says she has struggled to reframe her coverage of these issues to get them the attention they deserve.

Nadia Abdulaziz Al-Sakkaf, editor of the Yemen Times, spoke of the hours girls and women spend fetching water -- and the simple dream of one Yemeni girl, named for a character in a television soap opera, to have time to watch the program herself.

Trio2 Shehryar Mufti, the Pakistani journalist, said the surprise to him was a general unwillingness at the Forum to talk about water as a potential source of conflict. He said that in his view access to water resources is clearly a root cause of the Kashmir dispute, yet Pakistan persists in framing that conflict in terms of self-determination while India insists on presenting it as an internal political issue.

One reason neither side wants to address the water issues, he suggests, is that if "people talk about it as a resource issue then it might get resolved."