Kaveh Madani Presents Water: Think Again at TEDxKish (Transcript)

But one thing is important. Water conflicts are never only about water. Because water is tied to so many other things: your food, energy, the independence of your nation, the economy, politics, identity, dignity and so many other things. So even if countries claim that they’re only bargaining over water, it’s much more than that, it’s beyond that. So water will be used as a weapon to threaten the neighbors. This will go on forever.

But once you realize there are so many connections between water and other resources, you realize there are a lot of opportunities for trade. You can trade water for food, trade water for energy, trade water for a better reputation at the international level. So there are so many opportunities, and fortunately, history shows that the cases of cooperation have been much more than conflicts. That’s promising because human beings might become more efficient when things get scarce. Of course, that’s an optimistic hope. But it might happen, if we want to discover these opportunities.

History shows that war has never been the only cause of water conflicts. And to be specific, a water war. We never go on a war only for water. But water can catalyze war, can catalyze conflicts, and it can catalyze cooperation.

But the other experience — the experience which was about making the world a better place at the beginning. I was modeling and I was excited about these things. And as part of a project they had, named “Hydrosolidarity”, I got the chance of visiting Africa. We wanted to bring peace to the Nile with a bunch of theologists, engineers, lawyers and health experts. We went there and I was so excited. I had a lot of questions to get responses for, and I wanted to collect field data.

So when we got there, I realized all these people were spending so much time getting their water, drinking water, filling up their buckets, for hours, school hours, work hours spent in line for water. So I thought, based on the theory, that they would be fighting. I was expecting them to be fighting. Because if you spend so much time, at some point you get exhausted. And if you see someone crossing the line, you might have a fight. It was obvious to me that they will fight a lot.

So I asked this guy, our host, the tall guy in the middle, who had lost all his family in the genocide of the ‘90s in Rwanda. I asked him to ask the villagers how often they fight over water. Guess what the responses were? Translation took a bit longer than usual. I was realizing, OK, you know, I’d just asked a short question. This is taking so long, they are going back and forth. I knew something was going on. He turned back to me with a smile and an answer which really embarrassed me and my knowledge: They never fight. They never understood my question. These guys never fight over water.

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And that made me think: why not? Indeed, they do that to be stronger as a community. They’re cooperative. They cooperate to be stronger, to be able to stand up in tough situations and back up each other. Going through food shortage, water shortage, loss of families, and even genocide.

What is the other option? A western option maybe. To be competitive, to kill not to be killed over water. So it is just a matter of perception. It depends on how we want to see these games. We’re playing these games every day in our life. No matter where in the planet you are, we’re playing virtual games over water, over food, over energy, over emissions, over air, virtually, or actually. So no matter where you are in the world, you’re contributing to conflict or peace. Now you’ve got and we’ve got to choose if we want to play it competitively or as Rwandan started to do it.

In the first case, you see this game, you perceive it as a Wall Street game, as a competitive game in which you do anything to win the game. And in the other one, you realize that to be happier, if you care about the rest of the planet, you have to sacrifice a little. You need to conserve. We need to conserve. We need to reduce our footprint. We need to do less harm to the environment. To make the globe happy and care about the future generations.

And I hope we’ll all remember Saadi’s advice: Human beings are members of a whole, in creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, others uneasy will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain.

Thank you.