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Professors discuss water problems

Sam Stryker | Thursday, March 25, 2010

 Building infrastructure that is conducive to providing water and sanitation is crucial for living conditions of those in less developed nations, Notre Dame professors David Lodge and Molly Lipscomb said Wednesday.

Lodge, director of the Center for Aquatic Conservation, and Lipscomb, assistant professor of Economics and Econometrics, presented a lecture titled “Discussions on Development: It’s the Water, Stupid,” cosponsored by student government’s Global Water Initiative and the Ford Family Program.
 
Lodge started off the lecture by discussing the link between what humans desire, and what nature produces for our use.
 
“In the end, humans are concerned about well being,” he said. “All things that we need for human well being are in some way related to what nature provides. Ultimately, the value originates in nature.”
 
Lodge said what humans need is interlinked in a complex web with the services provided by the ecosystem. These services are impacted by indirect drivers of change, such as globalization, trade and governance through direct drivers of change.
 
Of these ecosystem services, water is the most important. Ten percent is directed for domestic use, 20 percent to industrial use and 70 percent to irrigation.
 
According to Lodge, one of the main problems is domestic water is not only unsanitary, but sometimes it is not readily accessible. 
 
“In many parts of the world, drinking water does not come from water treatment,” he said. “Almost half of the earth does not have drinking water near their dwelling.”
 
Lodge also said while developed nations are privileged with sewage infrastructure, much of the rest of the world is not so lucky.
 
“For more than 30 percent of the world there is no sanitation or physical separation between human sewage and potential water supply,” he said.
 
Lipscomb initiated her portion of the lecture by highlighting two of the United Nation’s Millennium Development goals. One was to cut in half the number of people without access to clean water from 1990 to 2015, and the other was to do the same for sanitation. 
 
“We’re doing pretty well in the provision of access to clean water, but Asia and Africa are clearly lagging,” Lipscomb said.
 
Lipscomb said more could be done in this area.
 
“If not accompanied by improved sanitation, the health impacts could be as bad as poor access to water,” she said.
 
Lipscomb said sanitation is extremely important, as poor sanitation can result in not only contamination of surface water, but problems with roads and persistence of bacteria and pests.
 
While legislation and funding to improve water infrastructure has been easy to come by, the same for sanitation has been overlooked.
 
“It’s hard politically to get sanitation funding,” Lipscomb said. “It’s easy to get water funding. The problem is they are interlinked.”
 
The solution, she said, is going to involve a lot of organizations.
“You need to provide incentives for private investment in this public good,” she said.