En reflektion runt Mål 6 och över gränsöverskridande kommunikation; vatten, sanitet och mänskliga rättigheter.

I fjol fick jag tillfället att medverka som samtalsledare på MRF – en filmfestival för mänskliga rättigheter. Filmen ”There will be water” kopplade till det 6:e globala hållbarhetsmåletSäkerställa tillgång och hållbar vatten- och sanitetsförvaltning för alla”.

Globalt sett har utvecklingen gått framåt och milleniemålet att halvera antalet utan tillgång till rent vatten uppnåddes i flera länder. Men ca 844 miljoner människor saknar ändå tillgång till rent dricksvatten, och många fler saknar tillgång till de enklaste former av sanitet (toaletter). Det mesta avloppsvatten släpps ut orenat i miljön (WHO & UNICEF, 2017). Utmaningen är stor för att åstadkomma adekvat skydd av både miljö och människors hälsa.

Kvinnor och flickor blir särskilt missgynnade vid avsaknad av rent vatten, sanitet och bristande hygien. Förlorad tid, sjukdomar, och attityder och tabun associerade med mens leder till förlorade skoldagar och slutligen lägre utbildning och förlorade arbetstillfällen.

Dessutom är vatten inte bara en grundläggande förutsättning för mänsklig hälsa och välbefinnande, utan också en förutsättning för jordbruk och energiförsörjning.

Filmen som jag och skoleleverna såg handlade om en forskares till synes enkla men ambitiösa mål att skapa vatten, energi och mat i öknen, genom ett system med solenergi för avsaltning och matodlingar. Ett storslaget ingenjörsprojekt där medverkande kämpade under hård tidspress.  Som lyckades… men sedan stötte på problem när finansiärerna drog sig ur. Fallgroparna är många, som eldsjälen i filmen fick erfara.

Utmaningarna inom vatten, sanitet, hygien, mat -och energiförsörjning är stora och komplexa. Även om man tycker sig ha den ultimata tekniska lösningen, kan det brista på grund av faktorer som kanske är svårare att påverka, t.ex. politik, samhällsstrukturer, finansiering, långsiktig hållbarhet, knyckfullt väder och förändrat klimat. Alltså både mänskliga, ekonomiska och miljömässiga faktorer, till synes utanför vår kontroll.

Att mötas och diskutera grundläggande frågor med nyfikna gymnasieungdomar är spännande och angeläget. I dessa dagar av ”fake news” och misstro mot fakta kanske det blir ännu viktigare att lämna de digitala forumen för att mötas i person. Dessutom får man raka och viktiga frågor, som kanske inte kan besvaras i en mening, men som vi alla gott kan fundera på, till exempel:

Om det är så lätt att rena vatten och det är sån vattenbrist i tex mellanöstern, och om man är orolig över konflikter med brist på vatten som orsak – varför renar man helt enkelt inte vattnet?!

”Är det inte lätt att bli frustrerad när inget görs?”

Vi har också här i Sverige anledning att fundera på hållbarhetsmålen, och mål 6 i ljuset av mänskliga rättigheter. Vi har människor som lever på samhällets marginaler som är särskilt utsatta och som bl.a. inte har regelbunden tillgång till vatten, sanitet och hygien (Davis & Ryan, 2017).

Dessutom har de tre senaste åren varit ovanligt torra, vilket ledde till vattenbrist på stora håll i Sverige, särskilt vid öar och kustområden. För enskilda brunnsägare, som kanske saknar kunskap och kapacitet att hantera vattenbrist och överhuvudtaget kontrollera eller åtgärda vattnets kvalitet, kan detta vara en stor utmaning, och något det svenska samhället kommer behöva planera för och hantera. I dagsläget saknas t.ex. en helhetlig kunskap baserad på systematiskt insamlade data om vattenkvaliteten hos hushåll med enskilda brunnar (SCB, 2017). Nyligen kom också betänkandet från den statliga utredningen ”Vägar till hållbara vattentjänster” som tittar just på småskaliga VA-lösningar. Utan tvekan kommer små och enskilda anläggningar bli en viktig fråga i Sverige framöver.

Det finns trots allt anledning att leva hoppfullt, att lära och att sträva mot förändring och förbättring. Utvecklingen har globalt sett gått framåt, och långt fler människor har tillgång till grundläggande rättigheter än vid millennieskiftet. Men kanske behöver vi tänka om, vara lyhörda och samarbeta med andra aktörer än de från vår egen bakgrund, ämnesområde, kultur och gärna över generationsgränser för att förverkliga den värld vi vill ha. VI har så oerhört mycket att vinna genom att mötas och lära av varandra.

Ett exempel av utbyte omkring vatten, sanitet, hygien och nutrition hittar ni här: WASHnut, vilket också porträtterats som del av UR skola, riktat mot gymnasieungdomar och förstagångsväljare.

 

Helfrid Schulte Herbrüggen
Vattenexpert på Ecoloop AB, affilierad forskare vid KTH

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Summer of ’18: a hot wormhole

Photo: Rymdstyrelsen/Copernicus Sentinel data 2017′ and 2018′ for Sentinel data/Google.

This was a summer to remember! Swedes are normally not spoilt with sunshine and we know how to complain about too much rain and too many mosquitoes. But this year most of us got more than we bargained for. July was extraordinarily hot and dry, it shows on satellite images. Major Tom agrees from his spaceship; Sweden has turned dry and brown.

The weather is always unpredictable, some may say, and next year we could find ourselves back in umbrella and long-john mode. This may be true in the short run. But this summer has shown us a glimpse, and a very hands-on experience, of the future. Climatologists, scientists and well-known weathermen like Pär Holmgren left no trace of a doubt: the stable ‘heat dome’ over Sweden (värmekupol) was linked to the ongoing process of global warming.

Very recently, researchers linked to the Stockholm Resilience Centre warned about the jittery behaviour of our climate. Some rather complex interactions between the atmosphere, the land masses and our oceans may create “tipping elements” in the planet’s temperature. We may therefore – the researchers suggest – be heading for a faster warming than earlier predicted; towards a permanent ”hot house” of 4-5 degrees above the pre-industrial mean temperature. As a matter of coincidence, this was exactly the temperature rise recorded in Sweden during the month of July, compared to the long-term average.

Mean temperature in July 2018, compared to long-term average. Source: SMHI, https://www.smhi.se/klimatdata/meteorologi/kartor/showImg.php?par=tmpAvvPrevMon

 

What we have seen this summer is most likely a first serving of what is to come. Thanks to this extreme summer, we can also start to grasp the consequences of a warmer world also in Sweden. And I’m not thinking about how to chill our bag-in-box-rosé on the beach.

Wild fires have spread across Sweden, at a scale never witnessed before. Tens of thousands of hectares of forest land have gone up in smoke, with inhabitants of entire villages having to flee. Our “arctic wildfires” made headlines all over the world. This said, ours were nothing compared to the massive wildfires still raging in California or the fires in Greece that left almost a hundred people dead.

The Swedish agriculture has taken a huge blow; with crops devastated in large parts of the country and livestock being sent to slaughter as the feed supply dries up. Swedish agriculture is largely rain fed with rather small acreage under irrigation. So when there is no rain, there is no crop. Farmers with irrigation installations have in some places been barred from using them due to water scarcity.

The groundwater levels in small reservoirs have been low or very low throughout Sweden which has not only created problems for the agriculture, but also for municipal drinking water supply. This year, over 100 municipalities introduced irrigation bans or other measures to save on the drinking water supplies. Even Stockholm, drawing water from the huge basin of Lake Mälaren, noted capacity problems as people were filling up their swimming pools and watering lawns in the early summer months.  On the national level, the agency Livsmedelsverket has issued recommendations for water saving, and the drought has been a real test for national crisis coordination. As if this was not enough, the national food agency warned that the warm weather can increase the risk for cyanobacteria, adding water quality risks to the shortage of supply.

All these “new “ water-related problems of 2018 almost made me forget the “old” climate challenges. We still have to deal with increased flood events due to heavy rainstorms, and with the sea level rise.

All doom and gloom? At least we can give the Swedish Environmental Protection agency right. In a 2016 report, the agency predicted that climate change will pose serious challenges to our current conventional water infrastructure.

In some ways, we should be thankful for this summer. It was a wormhole in the time warp; an exclusive pre-screening of a not very distant future. It is also a necessary wake-up call. We need to get serious about reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. For water management, the summer of ’18 tells us that “business as usual” will not be an option. On the whole, water will become more rare, unpredictable and expensive, and our infrastructure will have to follow new design principles. Designs that are more resilient and less wasteful. Designs that promote the principles of reduce and re-use; designs that don’t presuppose that we mix our precious water with human faeces. Designs for a warm, but also sustainable, future society.

Fold up your sleeves. Welcome back to work!

 

David Nilsson

Director, WaterCentre@KTH

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Can Water Die?

Report on PhD mid-Seminar on Algae Blooms and the Baltic Sea.

Based on my current research on algae blooms, the Water Centre has kindly invited me to post a blog on my mid-seminar which took place on April 16th at the Division of History of Science, Technology, and Environment.

Algae blooms have been present in the Baltic Sea for a long time, but they have not always been a regular feature in the broader cultural and social imaginations that exist in and around the Baltic Sea Catchment Basin. That people in Sweden know and care about algae blooms today partially stems from the foundation of HELCOM (an intergovernmental organization tasked with protecting the Baltic Sea) in 1974 and the large algae blooms of 1988. Of course, earlier algae blooms have also been important, including blooms from around the 1920s or 30s that caused an illness reportedly known as Haff-sjukan.

To a certain extent, therefore, my research attempts to contextualize or historicize this interest in algae blooms, but it also seeks to understand how people experience, relate to, communicate about, and value algae blooms and their causes and effects. Some research I’ve done up to this point explores how monitoring algae blooms came into being, how monitoring takes place, and in what ways monitoring efforts communicate contamination and disgust. Also, an article that I’ve recently published, “Are Dead Zones Dead?: Environmental Collapse in Popular Media about Eutrophication in Sea-based Systems,” tells a story about how different understandings of algae blooms in the Baltic Sea contribute to alternate ways of conceptualizing the health of the Baltic Sea, in this case, whether as collapsing or collapsed.

It was a pleasure to share some of this work I’ve been doing with colleagues and other scholars for my mid-seminar. Invited discussant, Heather Anne Swanson from Aarhus University detailed her thoughts on my work with algae blooms and my ongoing efforts. She gave me some really good advice along with others in attendance. I learned a lot from everyone who was involved and would be happy if any readers of this blog would like to contribute or share their experiences related to algae blooms with me as well. For example, I’ve had a difficult time finding out detailed information on Haff-sjukan. But, of course, I’d be just as interested in your latest sailing adventure or your own research that relates to eutrophication, algae, or de-oxygenated marine environments (sometimes known as bottendöd or “dead zone”). Please email me if you’d like: jessep@kth.se.

Besides addressing the questions and comments given to me at the seminar, I hope to research differences in the cultural values given to algae and algae blooms and how nutrients become pollution among other issues.

Scholars at KTH research waters and what happens in them in all sorts of ways. I am happy to be part of this diverse group and hope that my research will shed further light on the social and cultural relationships that people develop with algae blooms in the Baltic Sea.

Jesse D. Peterson
PhD Candidate

 

 

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Garden eels, freshly baked bread and the value of water

The short homemade video below shows a couple of spotted garden eels in action. You can go visit them yourselves, like I did, at the Aquaria Water Museum in Stockholm (which unfortunately closes down for good during 2018, so hurry!). Garden eels live in colonies of up to thousands of individuals on sandy bottoms in tropical and subtropical waters. They dig a burrow, hide about two thirds of their body (the fish is up to 40 cm long and 14 mm in average diameter) and peek up to catch foods that pass with the current. They apparently stay in the same burrow their whole life (except when mating when they move their burrow closer to a partner’s burrow).

Video: Lina Isacs

The garden eel above is in this text for two reasons: 1) I had no other water-related picture at hand when I sat down to write, 2) the mere thought of it makes me happy. Having thought a while about whether these were good enough reasons, I realized they both might fit for illustrating the topic I’d planned to write about. We’ll see if you think the same.

The bread. Since many years back, I use to start a five-week course that I teach with the following experiment. It aims to make students get some of the main points of the whole course in about 45 minutes:

From a paper bag I pick up a freshly baked bread. I tell the students I’ve bought it the same morning from a local bakery with local ingredients from organic farming, and I pose this question: “What’s the value of this bread?”. The students are not silent for long but start asking immediately what I mean. “Value? What do you mean by value?”, and I use to answer as sweeping as I can and then, instead, I divide the students into three big groups, about 20 in each, and say, “You, over there, are to discuss what you think the bread is worth and decide collectively about its value, and then write the value down on this piece of paper”, which I hand them while continuing. “And you, here in the middle, you too will discuss the value together in your group, but then, without telling anyone else, write down the value yourselves, individually, on this piece of paper, along with your name. And lastly, you, over here, without talking to anybody about it, write down what you think the bread is worth, followed by your name.” To make it more fun I use to say they don’t have to use their true names if they don’t want to, just as long as they remember what name they used, which always seems to appeal to some of the most creative (I’ve had Sten Sture d.ä., Stevie Wonder and a few other celebrities in the classroom).

Then, before handing in the pieces of paper, I tell everyone to return to their seats, and say “Now, this time it’s an auction, where the one with the highest bid has to buy the bread from me, I mean – really”, and ever since the second time I did this experiment I always add that I mean it, for real, “Because, the first time I did this the students thought it was a joke, which it isn’t – you really have to pay the amount you state, if your bid is the highest.” They are then told to write down a value on the same pieces of paper, next to the figure they already have, without talking to each other, and that when they’re done, they are free to leave the room for the upcoming break, while leaving their paper piece to me on their way out. “The winner will be announced after the break.”

A moment of bewilderment (or excitement) then always follows, when the students look around at each other, laugh and fidget for a bit, before taking action, pressed by the 15 min pause looming.

During the pause, I prepare some statistics. In an excel sheet, I write down the bid of those who made a collective choice, make columns with each individual’s bid from the two exercises, and calculate the average from the three types of individual values I now have – the ones from those who made an individual choice after having talked to their group, the ones of those who didn’t talk to anyone before writing down a bid, and the bids from the auction, which includes everyone in the class.

After the break – when it’s unusually easy to get them back in the classroom – I show them the results, focusing on the differences between the four values, before revealing the winner.

Each year, the tendency is the same: the auction’s mean is always the lowest, between 1,5 and 2,5 times as low as the highest, and though not every time, the highest mean is often the bid made collectively.

So what do I want to say with this? I let them buzz in pairs a couple of minutes. Then they easily spot the traditional methodological problems of what environmental economists call “non-market valuation”:

  • The hypothetical setting makes people overstate the value.
  • For the collective value case, peer pressure makes people want to seem better than they are, especially if those with the loudest voice are strongly engaged in environmental issues (which most of these students are).
  • For the individual value cases, norms about that one should act environmentally friendly make you state a higher value than what you’re actually prepared to pay.
  • There’s a difference between “value”, “worth” and “what you want to or can pay in money”.
  • Some can’t afford to pay the amount they think the bread is actually worth.

At this point, I use to ask them what type of value the auction value is supposed to imitate, and when I say “the market value”, the discussion takes a bit of a turn, and to be honest I might use to talk a bit too much myself from then on. “The difference between the market price and the higher values you stated, what does it represent? What did you consider then that you didn’t consider during the auction?” If someone mentions “positive externalities” I use to think I’m superfluous, but things like “biodiversity”, “animal welfare”, “emission costs” impress. Some insights, however, needs a bit more time than what we have left of the lecture, and although I don’t think I ever manage not to at least try to, I use to spare the more philosophical reflections to later in the course.

The value of water. So what does this have to do with water? The thing is that I’ve done kind of the same thing in my research, but with “real people” and a real environmental problem. In my PhD project, we met stakeholders from the area called “8 fjords” at the Swedish west coast, where marine water quality has deteriorated severely during the last decades, which is closely linked to the local cod being nearly extinct. The project treats the question of how to describe the value of that which we value in nature, but which is hard to measure in classical value terms (money).

In this project, our case-study participants were first asked to state how much they would like to pay in tax per month to make a water quality improvement come true. They were then given the task to collectively decide about the relative importance of different values, such as future generations’ needs, preservation of species, private property rights, to take a few examples.

To make the story short, we really made an effort to counteract methodological problems like those listed above. Even so, the difference between what people perceive to be “the value” of something and what they include in an amount they are willing to pay was significant. Most importantly, not even their stated willingness to pay fully captured what they perceived as “the value” of the water quality improvement.

As obvious as this may seem to most, existing methods within “conventional” environmental economics nevertheless have problems taking this into account. And to me that is not so strange. How would you describe the value of the priceless, making it visible to decision-makers – consumers included – when evaluating or forecasting the environmental and social impacts of a project, or of a private enterprise?

That’s what I and many other environmental economists currently struggle with. Especially if you tend to be intrigued by the two sides of human nature – the one being lazy to the point of not even daring to search for a relevant photo to include in an article you’re happy to have been asked to write, and the one which is recurrently moved to tears by the mere knowledge that species like the garden eel exist and thrive; even species that you never even get to see.

Lina Isacs

Doctoral Candidate at Water and Environmental Engineering

https://www.kth.se/profile/lisacs

 

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Descent into XXX Fountain

Christian Pleijel reflects on a spectacular tour into the techno-mythical world of water on the island of Vis in Croatia.

The bay of Komiža with an old bunker and the entrance to the spring to the left

Vis, a Croatian island in the Adriatic Sea, 55 kilometers from the mainland, with an area of 90 km2. 3,460 persons live in the island’s two municipalities. Ten times the population comes to visit every year = 36,750 tourists, spending some 200,000 person-days on the island.

The pressure on the islands’ freshwater system (as well as the systems for energy distribution, sewage, solid waste, roads, ports, telephones, internet, transports, postal services and healthcare) from tourism is not so high, compared to most Mediterranean islands. The amount of water needed for the island can be estimated to 139,000 m3 (139 million liters) a year.

The islanders get their freshwater from two locations: five 160 metres deep drilled wells at Korita located in the interior of the island, and the fresh water spring called Pizdica which is located close to shore in the bay of Komiža, deep inside the 587 metres high mountain Hum.

To visit the source, you leave the road at a height of about 250 meters and descend on a pathway which becomes a serpentine trail down the mountainside. Getting more rugged, with simple stairs, plateaus, risk to slip and dope. There are wild roses, blackberries, hedge flowers, rosemary and St. John’s wort. Through many turns, bends and staggering dumps, you eventually land on a beach with decayed buildings.

Vis was a floating fortress with bunkers and caves for torpedo boats during Yugoslav time. No visits were allowed. The Pizdica source was the only known natural water resource of the island and therefore carefully guarded by the military, who had a posting here and carefully guarded it from attacks of all kinds. Two iron doors 50 meters apart close the double entrance to the spring, connected by a half-moon-shaped gallery, built to bear the pressure of a 500 kiloton bomb. A heavy steel door leads into today’s pumping room, where a small side door leads through a long narrow tunnel deep into the mountain, with the water pipe from the source on the floor. It is dark with simple lamps every ten meters. The passage turns once more. The pipe has taps into the mountain. You hear the water gurgle, and, after another bend, you are at the source.

It is a small basin, 2 x 2 meter, one meter deep, giving 4 litres per second during summer, 3-4 times more winter time. The water is cold and clear and has a slight taste of salt.

It is spectacular. First the steep descent, then the jealous, oversized steel and concrete defense of the source, then today’s impressive engineering solution to extract the water of the source, finally at the bottom of the mountain the ancient, mysterious source, the holy origin of life. The Croatian word Pizdica literally means “small vagina” and the spring is referred to as the “pussy fountain”.

The source of Pizdica

We can choose to look at water from many angles. From an engineering point of view, drinking water is a precious provision which has to be found, extracted, purified and distributed among us humans. From a more poetic perspective, a freshwater spring is not only a subterranean spring but also a subconscious, important source of a myth, a legend, poetry, music, dreams and nightmares.

At Pizdica the myths seem to have combined in curious ways over time. Modern engineering ideals and military manifestations of dated geopolitics blend with traditional folklore echoing masculine dominance. Regardless what perspective we choose, the story of water on the island of Vis is one about a precious resource that needs to be safeguarded. Steel doors or not.

Christian Pleijel is Vice President of the European Small islands Federation. He works with leadership and development on island communities in Europe, including the challenge of water:  https://europeansmallislands.com/water-saving-project/

christian.pleijel@es.kth.se

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