New thinking needed in tackling our water issues

Wan Lixin
Panelists try to redefine the myriad water challenges confronting us from multi-disciplinary perspectives during the 7th World Water Source Summit.
Wan Lixin

Ecologists, explorers, urban designers and scientists try to redefine the myriad water challenges confronting us from multi-disciplinary perspectives during the 7th World Water Source Summit.

The summit was held in Shanghai on March 22, the World Water Day. The forum this year was themed on “Unruly water: envisioning future risks in liquid/solid/gaseous forms.”

The summit was sponsored by the Oriental Danology Institute (ODI) and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (Shanghai Representative Office).

Conducting the forum when the COVID-19 pandemic is still ravaging overseas is of particular significance.

As Zhou Lei, co-founder of ODI, observed, “Everyone is looking forward to going back to the pre-COVID-19 ‘normal’ that, actually, no longer exists.”

By contrasts, forum participants from home and abroad stressed the need to properly contextualize the water issues in a manner that they are no longer conceived of merely as local problems.

In his keynote speech, veteran geologist and explorer Yang Yong explained that when global attention turn to the plight of some residents on some islands in the sea as a result of global warming, relatively insufficient attention has been paid to the role the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau has played in stabilizing the meta-connectional global eco-system.

Yang explained that about 11 percent of the land on earth is covered in glaciers, and about 80 percent of the fresh water on earth is locked up in solid form. As a matter of fact, the water locked up in the glaciers in the plateau equals the volume of five Yangtze Rivers.

Also known as the third pole, the plateau is of critical importance as a source of coldness for the earth. In addition to the Yangtze River and the Yellow River, the plateau is also where no less than five major rivers in Asia originate.

As one who has been following the changes on the plateau closely, Yang demonstrated with pictures he had taken over the past 35 years that this third pole is warming fast, with retreating glaciers and shattering ice sheets.

Naran Bilik, an anthropologist from Fudan University and Inner Mongolia Normal University, seemed to be more obsessed with the ceaseless flow of rivers that leads to tempo-spatial continuity, as the scholar tried to unravel the mysterious link between linguistic diversity and biodiversity.

Renewing the connectedness

Over the past 12 years, during his work in Shanghai Bilik was truly impressed by what local residents have contributed to the poverty alleviation effort in Tibetan Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. But he also felt compelled to stress that this effort is not a uni-directional flow, for what is happening there in terms of climate change might impact the life in the east.

Thus Bilik appealed for unremitting efforts so that we can leave some possibility to our future generations.

“With our feet planted firmly on the ground, and our eyes gazing at the stars, there is every need to reconnect,” Bilik said. Achieving harmony between heaven, earth and human beings has always been a salient feature of Chinese outlook. Therefore, if the proper study of mankind is man, in this anthropomorphic age, there is every need for human beings to approach their existential threats by using other metrics, and adopting alternative perspectives.

For me the knowledge-sharing from the summit is immediately transformative. On Sunday, I was still fairly optimist about the water supply at my home, after I had all the filters for our potable water apparatus replaced by someone from A. O. Smith, at a cost of more than 1,000 yuan (US$153).

The small electrolyte analyzer showed a satisfactory 17, compared with 200 with the untreated water. We talked about tap water sourced from the Qingcaosha Reservoir, etc.

But the forum told me I need to turn my attention further upstreams. I have not yet paid the full bill for clean water.

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