A review by Alexandra Vargas of Robert Collin's presentation to the Water Justice Seminar
Updated: Aug 9
Robert Collin, J.D. - Writer, activist, and retired professor; currently serving as Vice Chair of the Oregon Environmental Justice Task Force
"Oregon Environmental Justice Task Force Representative"
The availability of drinking water is a right for everyone. Water is a primary and necessary resource for the survival of human beings and that of most species on the planet. However, despite being such a valuable resource, we do not give it the value it deserves. We live in a society where economic development and profit are a priority, and we need to be aware of the problem and reevaluate our preferences. Currently, the distribution and availability of quality water are far from being equitable, according to the United Nations(1) 2 out of 5 people worldwide do not have a basic hand-washing facility at home, the world water situation is critical. In general, people with fewer resources are the ones who end up paying more for water, meaning limited access, generating health problems.
Additionally, one of the consequences expected with climate change is the decrease in available freshwater, which will worsen this situation.
Robert Collin, a member of the Environmental Justice Task Force, presented his seminar from a political approach, presented the state of environmental policy, environmental justice, ecological reparation, and new changes. The presenter began his presentation by mentioning the generational differences and the approach with which each generation in history has made environmental decisions. Today 25% of the population in the world are millennials, and the change we want to achieve will depend on us. We are a generation that has more access to education than other generations have had, and we also live closely related to the media, mainly social networks, which can have a great influence. And change is already being seen with this generation.
Previously, the goal was the greatest good for the most powerful interest, and the side effects didn't matter. These externalities, which are not paid with money, to obtain the desired profit, have a very high social and environmental cost, and the main natural resources that are affected are air and water. Additionally, the ones most affected are again the populations with less economic resources.
In Peru, my country of origin, water inequality is also a problem, and this added to the economic situation causes the severity of the consequences to increase. As in many countries with people with less financial resources, those who pay more for drinking water, and in some cases, it is not even water that meets quality standards.
Peru is among the 15 countries with the highest availability of water(2); more than half of the country is rain forest landscape with countless rivers, including the Amazon. On the other hand, 70% of the country's energy comes from water(3). However, water is increasingly becoming a scarce resource due to different factors such as deforestation, water misuse, and global warming. It is expected that in 2030, in 10 years, Peru will begin to seriously feel the ravages of the lack of water, which today are already being felt in some regions of the country.(4)
We have to become aware of the problem and deal with it not only with big policies but also implementing projects that allow educating the population and detecting the main issues and the most feasible alternatives. If we do not change our way of valuing natural resources, we will end up in a very unpleasant situation. And as always, the populations that are most affected will be the most vulnerable, the ones that caused the least impact and whose voices we do not hear.
(1) United Nations, Water (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/water/index.html
(2) AQUASTATS, FAO's Global Information System on Water and Agriculture (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/aquastat/en/overview/methodology/water-use
(3) Ministerio de Agricultura y Riego (n.d.). Retrieved from http://minagri.gob.pe/portal/45-sector-agrario/recurso-energetico/342-la-energia-electrica
(4) SERVINDI, La preocupante y desigual situación del agua en el Perú (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.servindi.org/actualidad/84511
Alexandra Vargas is a graduate student in the Professional Science Master in Environmental Science and Management program at PSU, building on her bachelor degree in Environmental Engineering. Currently, she is working in CES as the Recycling & Reuse Coordinator at the Port of Portland. She has seven years of experience working in sustainability in the private sector back home in Peru. She is a specialist in carbon footprint management and has developed clean production projects. Additionally, Alexandra has implemented environmental education tools and carried out awareness campaigns because she is confident that environmental awareness is the first step to achieve global change. For her master's degree, she is working in a team integrated project studying PSU’s approach to stormwater management.