When I heard about the Nobel Peace Prize Forum’s 2018 focus on “The Paradox of Water,” I hoped for a connection between our journal and the perspectives that speakers would bring to the gathering. Here, thanks to a great deal of hard work by many people, not least Augsburg political scientist Joseph B. Underhill, is the result: a collection of features and columns that explores some of the many paradoxes of water.
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This issue of Open Rivers, anticipating and drawing on the upcoming Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minneapolis, explores the complex intertwining and paradoxes of water, conflict, and peace. Anything so fundamental and complex as water or peace must, of necessity, contain seemingly contradictory or opposite qualities. The beauty of water is in how it reconciles and provides space for those complex, muddy mixes of qualities and characteristics.
These videos and audios are from Bdote Memory Map. The deep mapping project created by Allies: media/art is a partnership project with the Minnesota Humanities Center. The website was created several years ago to help citizens of the area now called Minnesota know where they are, and to learn from the Dakota that this place and the river is not a resource, but rather a relative.
Early one September morning in 1975, in a quiet Metairie subdivision west of Transcontinental Drive, a ranch house suddenly exploded in a fireball so powerful it damaged 20 neighboring buildings and broke windows a mile away. The house plus four adjacent homes were reduced to rubble, and 11 people were seriously injured.
Water is at the core of sustaining all life on earth, and the people who have inhabited the arid and semi-arid lands of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region throughout the centuries know this very well. Scarcity of water in the region has shaped its history and geopolitics, including into the present day, with climate change and population growth putting more pressure on already scarce water resources (World Bank 2018).
We live on a water planet. As the writer Arthur C. Clark noted, if we didn’t happen to be land-dwelling creatures, we would call our planet Ocean, rather than Earth. And for humans, fresh water is critical for life, health, our economies, and vibrant ecosystems. The vast majority of water on the planet—more than 97 percent—is salt water, in our oceans.
Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 BCE-475 BCE) was the master of paradox: “It rests by changing,” “a thing agrees at variance with itself,” and “the same: living and dead, and the waking and the sleeping, and the young and the old” (Kahn 1979, Fragments LII, LXXVIII, XCIII). Both Plato and Aristotle saw his views as logically incoherent and inconsistent with the law of non-contradiction.
The River Nile has long been a subject of study and veneration. From the earliest times the Nile has presented problems upon which men have speculated. “Two of the most important which have been discussed since the time of Herodotus, the position of the sources of the Nile and the origin of its annual flood, were solved during the last and at the beginning of the present century.”
Questions about water are often implicitly about systems of power. The benefits and impacts of how water is used, distributed, and accessed are unevenly distributed. Water thus becomes a site where the inequalities in society are made visible and contestation arises. The readings listed here offer a sample of some of the ways water is implicated in systems of inequality and work toward social justice.