Global Thesis Update: Downstream

Taylor Schendel `12

By: Taylor Schendel `12

In 1999, boats were left ‘high and dry in the mud’ as residents downstream of the Hongze Lake witnessed ‘the ghostly walls of Sizhou, a city submerged by floods some 300 years ago, emerge into the light’.  The Huai River was drying up, and it would continue to do the same in 2000.  It is hard to imagine this happening in some parts of the world, since most of the time water just pours out from the twist of a tap. On top of that, every coastline is surrounded by water as far as the eye can see.  In fact, 95.5% of the world’s water is salty, leaving only a mere 2.5% to be fresh.  Unfortunately, 70% of this freshwater is trapped in snow and ice.  Under these circumstances, water scarcity now affects more than two fifths of the people on Earth.

These are just a few of the statistics that provoked me to focus my Global Thesis on water.  Ever since my sophomore year Builders Beyond Borders trip to Peru, and my Human Ecology research project at The Island School, I have had an interest in this issue.  I began to understand that this was something that has already begun to cause conflicts across the world, and will continue to become one of the biggest issues that we face in the next 20 years.

It wasn’t very hard to narrow my topic down to Southeast Asia, and even further, to China.  With the Tibetan Plateau as the third largest freshwater depository in the world, it seemed to be overflowing with resources.  However, somehow, one in five Asians is still left without access to safe drinking water.  Controlled by China, but surrounded by countries like Nepal, India, Burma, and Thailand, the Tibetan Plateau and its intricate system of rivers and mountains, is the main source of water for all of Southeast Asia. In my opinion, this makes it one of the most interesting and unique places in the world to study water conflict on the environmental, political, economical, cultural, and social levels.

With so many different factors and dimensions involved in just my research and analysis of this problem, I am still trying to develop my possible solutions.  Recently, I, along with some of the other global thesis and 20/20 students had the chance to hear Steven Solomon, the author of Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization, speak at a World Affairs Forum.  When I asked him how he would propose to solve the issue of some of China’s downstream neighbors in Thailand and Burma not receiving adequate water resources, he replied, “I wish I could say I have an answer, but I don’t”.  It was definitely disheartening to hear an expert on my topic admit that he was just as dumbfounded as me, but I’m hoping that one way or another, I’ll be able to come to some conclusions by April.

Global Thesis Update: Downstream

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