We Have Our Roots in Water

It has been a few years since ASTC’s award-winning magazine, Dimensions, last devoted an issue to a single science-based theme, like water. But, we were drawn to this topic for our January/February 2013 issue as we learned more about the 2013 International Year of Water Cooperation, and the UN’s decision to call upon its scientific and educational arm, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to lead the effort “because of the organization’s unique multidisciplinary approach which blends the natural and social sciences, education, culture, and communications.”

This blend that defines UNESCO is mirrored in the work of science centers and museums all around the world. Recognizing this, ASTC has formed a strong partnership with UNESCO during the past two years that has, in turn, given greater visibility to a wealth of activities within our field to help raise local awareness about sustainable development, youth empowerment, greater access for women to careers in science, and many more topics that are precisely the issues defined as UN global priorities.

It is no surprise, therefore, that we should join with UNESCO in celebrating this new “international year.” It offers another important opportunity to highlight all that we do to educate and inform, in his case about the importance of collaborative action for water management in the face of increasing global water demand. Today, 780 million people lack access to safe drinking water, and 2.5 billion lack access to sanitation.

Few topics impacting humanity today are so deeply rooted in and so critically dependent upon the tools of science and technology. Having spent a considerable portion of my own public service career devoted to the topic of “water diplomacy,” I learned quickly that scientists and engineers often proved to be my most valued colleagues. On one occasion, I recall asking our then–Middle East peace negotiator why a topic as important as water was not included centrally in the highly charged policy exchanges underway at the time. He responded that the water deliberations were far too essential and immediate in their impact to be included in these unpredictable and volatile rounds of policy negotiations. Rather, a critical compromise on water would best be achieved through the dedicated (and objective) efforts of scientists, engineers, and a public that understood the important variables at stake. This, in my view, is another example of science at its highest calling.

While much has already been said, written, and even undertaken to meet the critical challenges of global water access and management, the year ahead is specifically dedicated to fostering greater global cooperation. As we elevate this topic in our own communities, let’s also find ways to be voices for communities of greater need, sometimes far from our own. I hope that we will be able to achieve cooperation through the heightened awareness and collective voice that we bring to this important topic.