International Water Day was commemorated on March 22nd, a date promulgated by United Nations since 1992 with the purpose to draw attention of all the countries in the world regarding care and respect for this vital substance, since there are still 2.2 billion people in the world who do not have access to drinking water according to figures of the same organization, and, on the other hand, the water sources of the planet and the ecosystems that protect them are heavily affected by human groups.
Although this commemoration is significant and demands arisen to reduce water consumption and waste, to lessen the discharge of pollutants and waste into water sources, and to protect the planet’s ecosystems are extremely relevant, it is also necessary to rethink the ways to understand and vision we have as a society about nature and this critical liquid. In essence, a biocentric idea is required taking into account the planet, namely, it does not label biotic and abiotic factors as mere resources in the name of the economic development but recognizing them as a whole where complex, synergic and symbiotic relationships are intertwined, allowing the presence of a diversity of life systems.
As Eduardo Gudynas** argues, today’s ecological crisis is a result of the pressure we have progressively applied on ecosystems since the Industrial Revolution in a world whose global economy increasingly requires exploiting each country’s own resources. Such an intensified extractivism is linked to commercialized and materialistic concept of Nature, something that has pushed the planet’s environmental sustainability to the wall. Thus, historically in our cultural system, Nature has been the means of economic development, the object of control and manipulation, nullifying the chance of envisioning it as a legal matter.
This concept of Nature and water despite knowing their vital role for life has risen major dichotomies and conflicts where economic interests are disputing a prioritization status against quality of life of entire populations and the protection of ecosystems. According to Atlas of Environmental Conflicts in the World, there are major conflicts associated to the issue of water supply on the planet. In our country things are no different; for example, there is a great social concern about approval of environmental licenses for mining megaprojects that would sacrifice large areas of moorland and polluting the water sources of entire populations, besides projects that would detriment the biota of a river and the surrounding populations to build large dams, large extensions of forest and jungle, large extensions of forest and jungle, and the protection of ecosystems, large extensions of forest and jungle that are deforested year-by-year for cattle raising, and the expectation to implement fracking as a hydrocarbon exploitation technique despite the risk involved for soils and groundwaters among many other examples showing these disputes, which spot the urgent need of a paradigm shift to really understand Nature.
Despite the hegemonic materialistic concept of Nature, there are movements of resistance to prioritize the defense of water and life as a whole to advocate for freedom and choose the environment where anyone wants to live. Such a clear example is the socio-environmental conflict in the Moorland of Santurban after the delimitation of moors, encouraging several social mobilizations organized to rescue the value of the ecosystem, water, and the moorland for surrounding populations, while preventing the development of mining megaproject that would leave hundreds of people without drinking water and surely would destroy the ecosystem.
Another related situation is linked with the prospective implementation of hydrocarbon exploitation in Unconventional Deposits (YNC, the Spanish acronym) in our country, also known as fracking. Professor Leonardo David Donado, who was in the Independent Interdisciplinary Commission regarding this technique carried out by the General Comptroller of the Nation, assured that our country is not ready for this practice. Then it was a pilot carried out in Magdalena Medio; by the way, environmentalists, such as Oscar Sampayo, state that technique to fracture the rock will cause critical social and environmental problems in Santander and Cesar since there is evidence that fracking in other regions of the world has caused diseases, damage to ecosystems, and contamination of water sources.
To that extent, in order to face the water crisis we are living today it is mandatory to assume a concept to reestablish the integrity of the ecosystem, by recognizing human beings as a part of that whole very close to ancestral ideas that considered water as a vital part of Pacha Mama; conceptions such as Muisca people who think through the river runs the thought of the earth and recognizes water as the basic essence of the planet.
As I said before, Nature is one and to that extent water cannot be perceived as a customized good, otherwise it must be seen as part of a whole where life is being developed and we are a part of it. In our country, the defense of water involves defending and conserving the ecosystems where they are flowing, and life leaves its own path.
* Rector of the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional
** Gudynas, E. (2014). Derechos de la Naturaleza: Ética biocéntrica y políticas ambientales. Lima: Red GE, CooperAcción y PDTG.