Agnew Discusses Politics of Water: Lecture Addresses Importance of Political Participation

By Alec Bergerson

At a lecture called ‘Rethinking the World’s Water Problem’ last Thursday, Dr. John Agnew, professor of Geography and Italian at UCLA, discussed the relevance and political importance that water policy will have in the future.

In his lecture, Agnew spoke on the political implications of handling water problems and how the current view of water politics has developed. These water problems include access to water in developing countries, the availability of water in regions where the resource is limited, and the sharing of water resources across national boundaries.

“Water is a very important issue. Perhaps [it isn’t] a defining world crisis, but I think we have problems recognizing that we can deal with this kind of problem in a political way,” Agnew said.

During his lecture, Agnew focused on the potential of politics to be a better mediating force. He discussed the lack of belief in the capability of political dealings to resolve issues and argued that politics should not be seen in such a negative light, as they have been the origin of much success.

“Politics are all about compromise, yet we live in an era when all or nothing is its leading motif. Politics, in my view, offer the possibility of thinking and acting in such a way that they can actually change how the world works,” Agnew said. “The fact that politics provide tools for resolving conflicts, which otherwise remain intractable and can lead to violent confrontation, no longer seems very important.”

Agnew discussed the preconception that water issues have led to the general consensus that it is an unsolvable problem. He then contradicted these beliefs by pointing out the trend of water treaties in the last century and how it has not led to any sort of war.

“Water will be the defining crisis of the twenty-first century,” Agnew said. “Not because of the problematic geography of water alone, but especially because of the terrifying [idea] that there is nothing that can be done about it.”

He concluded his lecture by pointing out how politics can be influenced by the public through political participation and that people actively being a part of democracy can lead to policy change for the better.

“Cooperation and negotiation are the key to success in this crisis,” Agnew said. “The linguistic and symbolic cast of most water treaties is to see water as a source all parties need, in varying degrees, and must be shared in light of local requirements and relative availability, rather than solely in terms of wider nationalist or corporate goals. We have politics available to us and we need to invigorate them to actively shape the world.”

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