Water is fascinating to me. It is vital for life, and essential for cooking. Yet people talk about water as if it’s a simple, everyday thing they barely value. In reality, it’s complex and our relationship to water is getting more complicated all the time.
When my non-profit World Central Kitchen shows up to feed communities after a disaster, more often than not, water is at the heart of the suffering and the solution.
Hurricane Maria dumped vast amounts of water on Puerto Rico, driving some to escape for their lives to the upper floors of their neighbor’s home. But it also knocked out the supply of clean water on the island when it destroyed the electric grid, including the pumps and filters that delivered the essence of life to every family.
Without clean water, you cannot cook the food in your kitchen. You cannot boil the bag of rice that good-hearted people donate. Your life shrinks to your essential needs: to find a bottle of water right now. You fear getting sick from the open water nearby.
Agriculture - food production - accounts for roughly 70 percent of water use worldwide. We find ourselves in a moment where we have to feed a growing population, while resources are becoming more scarce, and our planet is groaning under the weight of our demands for more.
That’s why I look for technologies that can help us bridge to a new moment. Where can we farm smarter, using cover crops and more efficient irrigation to protect soil and water? What is the balance of keeping enough fish in the oceans to keep a thriving food chain, while also providing enough seafood to sustainably feed people and support fishers? How can we work with nature to meet the challenges of this moment?
We need to think bigger and go faster with our water solutions: to take our ideas and innovations and scale them up quickly. We need to change how we think, eat, cook, farm and fish.
In the past, humanity has assumed our planet would always give us something new. We could eat all the abalone on the Pacific coast, all the cod in the Atlantic, and all the tuna in the Mediterranean. We assumed there would always be something more.
Now we know there is an end to what our planet can give to us. Now we have to adapt to what our planet needs from us.
We have to stop damaging what we have, conserve what is left, and learn to live differently. We need to farm on land and at sea in new ways. We need to eat in ways that our world can sustain. And we need to invest in one another – in communities that care for each other before and after disasters.
To me, it’s as clear and as complex as a glass of water.