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Pulitzer Center Update March 26, 2010

Water and Peace: Security's Undercurrent

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The majority of India's water sources are polluted. A lack of access to safe water contributes to a...

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Villagers in Bishikiltu. Image by Alex Stonehill. Ethiopia, 2008.

Specialists from across sectors gathered at the National Geographic Society on World Water Day, Monday, March 22, to share information on an issue seemingly so simple we often take it for granted.

But you don't have to be an expert to know about water.

Just ask the man who sold me my coffee today. "Well, that's obvious," he said of the event, "it doesn't matter what else people have; without water, they're going to go after each other to get it."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton agrees. "Access to reliable supplies of clean water is a matter of human security. It's also a matter of national security." Yet rather than approaching water as a source of conflict, Clinton billed the issue as an opportunity to pursue solutions.

"She went out of her way to emphasize water's potential for peace and confidence-building, reflecting a commitment to capturing opportunities rather than merely identifying threats," notes Geoff Dabelko, Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program. "Secretary Clinton's speech was notable for the breadth of the problem set she identified and the solution set she proposed."

In our age of nuclear proliferation and rogue regimes, it's easy to overlook the natural compound as an influential externality rather than a direct security concern. No one denies its significance, yet when it comes to policy, it is rarely front and center. As recently as a few years ago, the "big battle" for environmentalists was drawing public and legislative attention to a slowly detonating bomb. Recognition of the complex causal relationship between water and conflict signifies the real policy breakthrough, opening the door to innovative security solutions.

This week's events signal the tide has turned. At Tuesday's attempt to form the world's longest toilet queue, there were nearly as many cameras as there were students, legislators, scientists and celebrities standing in the line behind the row of porcelain American Standards on the Capitol lawn. Initially, I was slightly dismayed--where were the activists? But this was no demonstration.

Rather, it was a celebration of the mutual acknowledgement that water access and sanitation underlie every security issue we face. Watch below for remarks on water and peace from Monday's speakers:

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State: "Perhaps you don't see it in the headlines, but it's often in the trendlines."

Maria Otero, Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs: "...creating regional centers where countries can exchange and can interact in a way that will allow us to mitigate conflict."

Congressman Earl Blumenauer, D-OR: "...what I saw just last month in Haiti, where problems of water and sanitation may rival the loss of life of the earthquake."

David Douglas, President of Water Advocates: "Secretary Clinton spoke very compellingly that this issue ties into every other developmental issue they're involved with, whether it's global health, climate change, agriculture, national security..."

Kenna, Grammy-nominated recording artist and founder of Summit on the Summit: "The Earth is 75 percent water. We are 75 percent Water. Without it, we couldn't exist."

Rev. John McCullough, Church World Service: "Water is a gift from God to be preserved and shared for the benefit of all people."

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While Americans fret over rising gas prices and global tension over oil, the world's poor are...

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Environment and Climate Change


Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change