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Edoardo Borgomeo has a degree in Environmental Engineering from Imperial College London, and a PhD in Hydrology from the University of Oxford where he has been Honorary Research Associate since 2016.
He has collaborated with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka.
He currently works at the World Bank as a water specialist, dealing with water management projects, climate change adaptation and infrastructure planning in South America, the Middle East, South Asia and East Africa.
His scientific production on water and climate change has been recognized with an international award presented by the UN in October 2018 ( Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water ).
In 2020 he published with Laterza a popular book on water: Blue Gold. Stories of Water and Climate Change.
AFTER THE TRIPS YOU HAVE MADE AND IN THE LIGHT OF HIS ACQUIRED EXPERIENCE, WHAT IS YOUR VISION OF WATER?
00:00 / 03:41
My connection to the water currently involves a professional connection.
I work for the World Bank, where I manage water management projects, primarily in Asia and Africa.
Of course, I have a long relationship with water.
For me, water is not just a work, it is also an interest, a way of seeing the world that surrounds us.
As a starting point there is certainly curiosity and the desire to try to interpret the earth's environmental changes through one of the fundamental elements: the water.
I begin to be interested in water and environmental change in high school, when that knowledge becomes widespread (in fact, scientists have had this consciousness since the 1970s and 1980s).
Mankind altered the bio-geochemical cycles of the earth, it altered the functioning of the earth by emissions of carbon dioxide, it caused a rise in the world temperature.
If you remember, about fifteen years ago, Al Gore's famous documentary, The Inconvenient Truth, was released, explaining this problem to a general audience.
Having seen this documentary, which was a sort of spark, I am beginning to read a lot about the themes of environmental management and the relationship between humankind and nature.
And I see how water is one of the areas where the human/natural relationship is more problematic and also historically present.
As a teenager, I realize that the society I live in modifies the environment around me, and I try to understand what was happening.
I'm trying to study solutions or ways to solve this humans-nature conflict that has caused climate change.
I decide to do it through the water, because it seems to me that this is one of the factors of the human/nature relationship that worries me the most.
Water is involved every day: we see it, we touch it every day, it is historically present in our cultures, in the landscape.
I am from Rome, here we have those Roman aqueducts, the nasoni, the fountains: water is present in the urban landscape, I was also very interested in this aspect.
Roman aqueduct in Testaccio
The path I chose was at first very academic, studying and specializing.
This allows me to learn the technical language, to position water management problems within the scientific process, and to understand historically how water knowledge has evolved.
Understand the importance of other disciplines in helping us interpret the relationship between human/nature and human/water.
And thus the importance of economics and jurisprudence and not just of the technical solution as regards the management of environmental problems .
And then the importance of art, other dimensions of human interest and the way people relate to nature.
LOOKING AT THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE WHAT SENSATIONS HAVE WITH RESPECT TO THE RELATIONSHIP THAT THE COMPANY HASTS WITH WATER?
00:00 / 03:38
I like to think of a future where society can use technical tools for water management, such as the technique for distributing or purifying potable water, but also able to combine these tools with a more personal.
For some populations, for example in New Zealand, rivers are parents.
The relationship with the river is described by words which do not recall usage and consumption, but rather shared memory, family heritage.
I like to refer to the recently held COP meeting in Glasgow, the climate negotiations where an agreement was to be reached to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C, or above 2°C.
Alok Sharma, President of COP 26
There were certain promises made.
The most interesting thing in my opinion is that the last day ended with President Alok Sharma, the person who was in charge of bringing the result home, crying in his final speech.
And he cries because there had been a change in some words of the accord that reduced the force of the accord itself.
I would like to dwell on the tears of that man of power who was in charge of negotiating: because crying is something humans normally associate with relationships.
When anything goes wrong in our relationship with someone, we cry.
The cry of Alok Sharma, the cry of the chairman of the COP, is symptomatic of the fact that our relationship with nature, with water, does not work.
That's why he's screaming.
There are obviously practical reasons why the negotiations have not gone exactly the way he wanted.
We can consider these tears as a symptom that our relationship to the surrounding environment is ill.
You have to go to the analyst to find out what the problem is.
Of course, the analyst in this case is not a traditional analyst, but a climatologist, who tells us that climate change is taking place.
And then it takes us back in time and makes us broaden the horizon to remember that nature doesn't just have to be managed.
The relationship with nature is not only about exploitation, management, control, but it's also something that recalls historical and cultural values and religious.
For the Greeks, the human/natural relationship could be summarized as a Promethean relationship.
Prometheus controls nature to create convenient advantages for humans.
Now, in the Western world, the relationship with nature goes only through Prometheus, it is only a relationship of control and dominance.
However, for the Greeks, the relationship with nature also crossed Orpheus.
A more contemplative view of nature: nature as something that could not be completely revealed.
It is this Greek wisdom that we have to rediscover, the fact that nature is not entirely controllable and therefore adapt accordingly.
HOW SHOULD ECONOMIC INTERESTS BE COMBINED WITH A VIEW THAT WATER IS NOT AN EXCLUSIVE EXPLOITATION?
00:00 / 03:43
Economic tools, which are typically tools that help to manage and distribute a good or resource when it is scarce, can actually be very helpful with this new vision of water.
It is clear that development requires an economic vision in which the benefits of water management must be maximised.
An example is if I have to distribute water to a community: I will only do so if it helps me to make a profit, otherwise I will not tackle that problem.
But we should not see the economy as a guide in maximizing profits.
We can also think of the economy as a discipline, a way of seeing things, which is also able to indicate a smarter way of experiencing this relationship with water.
Some classic examples are ecosystem services.
Part of the environmental economy provides an economic value, a monetary value to ecosystems.
This helps protect them, especially in a world where value is often dictated by money, a clear one-dimensional vision of value.
The economy is still not very interested in environmental issues, or water, and I think that's a great limitation on discipline.
I think some of this reflects the fact that environmental issues and climate change have only recently emerged as political priorities.
The economy is generally concerned with studying problems which have a political priority.
Now that those questions arise, there will be a new wave of studies and research that will attempt to address water management policies and climate change.
My view is that economics and engineering are very practical tools that help make specific choices, but on a conceptual level, they don't have the capacity to reorient that relationship.
Skills that instead have tools such as art and literature , because something is needed that has both a purely individual and collective dimension.
The economy needs a political and legal decision on how to manage resources such as water.
It is useful for economists to study the problem of water to tell us: the resource is very rare, we can be more effective.
The problem is that these dynamics are market dynamics.
The product is handed over to the highest bidder, because they are the ones who are most committed to managing it more efficiently, simply because they paid the most.
This logic should be limited, and thus the political and legal decision to impose limits on our use of water resources, or on carbon dioxide emissions.
River embankment in Bangladesh
The same logic: the COP is a political platform, not an economic one.
The economy then comes in to try to optimize within the limits that have been set by the policy.
A broader view of reality.
HOW CAN ART INTERLACE WITH OTHER DISCIPLINES TO BRING NEW VISIONS?
00:00 / 02:16
In our cities, water is seen as an enemy : it must be taken, ducted and pushed out of the cities to prevent flooding, to prevent water from disturbing the regular development of city activities, transport and the exchange of goods.
Water is seen as an entity foreign to the urban fabric, and it is seen as something that must be channeled to give us a drink and then it must be evacuated from our cities.
These are mostly modern cities.
In my book I give the example of Mexico City, but if you also think of most cities in the United States: they have no fountains, there is no water, there are no rivers, they have all been channeled into concrete canals to get the water flowing out of the city as fast as possible.
This is also seen in places in Italy such as Reggio Calabria and Genoa which are built along rivers, the rivers in the case of Reggio Calabria.
And instead of giving rivers their space, in our urban areas we have forced them into concrete walls to make them flow.
To get the water out of the city as quickly as possible.
A new relationship with water also passes through urban planning that keeps water inside the city : there are examples from Holland to Mexico, or even from Italy, where squares of water are built.
In this way the water has time, when it rains a lot, to infiltrate the underground layers again and then fill the aquifers, which are the source of drinking water that we use for example in Rome.
This gives the water time to descend, it does not make it disappear, it does not make it flow quickly but it gives it the space to reintegrate into the environment.
Then there are other places like Munich where rivers are no longer separated from the city by walls: the walls have been torn down so that citizens can get closer to the river, bathe, sunbathe along the banks of the river and thus rebuilding a more personal relationship with water.
Our current relationship is a conflictual relationship, urban planning helps to remove this conflict, it removes the walls, gives water its space.
The course of the Isar river in Munich
00:00 / 02:13
Another example of how the rapprochement between society and water can take place is the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, a companion of Frida Kahlo, who in the 1950s painted a beautiful mural inside a pumping station of the water distribution system water of Mexico City.
It is a beautiful example: he combined his fascination for a hydraulic work that brought water to millions and millions of people with the awareness that without art this work would only be partially useful.
It would have transported water, but it would not have transported the struggles of the Mexican population to make this water reach everyone.
In other words, Diego Rivera wanted to remind everyone that the distribution of drinking water was not only a question of pumping but also a way of remembering what humanity had to go through to get water distributed to everyone 24 hours. out of 24.
In this mural Rivera talks about water as the origin of life and starts from the bacteria in the primordial broth.
More than four billion years ago, life was born inside the water, in this primordial soup the first forms of living beings were born.
Diego Rivera tells this story in the part of the floor of the mural and then in the sides shows how water has always been present in the progressive liberation struggle of human beings.
Diego Rivera was a communist and therefore saw the evolution of human history as a kind of liberation from the imposition of power and constraint.
We cannot think that managing water is enough by building walls to reduce flooding or by building purification systems to clean the water.
We also need to tell what we are doing through economics and engineering to help all of society relate better to water.
Water, the origin of life, mural by Diego Riveira, Cárcamo de Chapultepec, 1951
00:00 / 01:33
Another example is in Rome where in Piazza Navona there is the Fountain of the Four Rivers, a sort of hymn to water.
Here the words of engineering, such as distribution or volume of water, meet with sacredness, history, memory.
At the base there are the four rivers of the globalized world, the fountain is by Bernini, so we are in 1600, in the globalized world of that time there are the Ganges, the Danube, the Rio della Plata and the Nile.
Above the sculptures of the rivers Bernini has a large obelisk placed, symbol of the Nilotic civilization of water.
At the top there is the dove with the olive branch, which reminds us of the universal flood and the myth of creation and water which, at a certain point, made everything disappear.
Through art we can look at our historical relationship with water : there is the biblical myth at the top, there is the Egyptian civilization with the obelisk, there is the present world, for Bernini, this globalized world and this globalization that is represented through the four rivers.
This is an example of how art can help us understand how water has always been present in our history of Western civilization.
Fountain of the four rivers, by Bernini, Rome 1651
00:00 / 01:43
Hydraulic work is one of the classic ways in which humans have related to water.
Obviously the hydraulic works are very useful, they have an essential function for society.
But they also have a political function and there are many examples including that of Mao Zedong who had a series of dams built on the Yangtze River.
The history of China is closely linked to hydraulic works, so much so that the character used in Chinese to say "power" is actually made up of two characters which mean: "water" and "platform".
Water management is a platform for power.
This is a clear example of a sick relationship that has even entered the language: wanting control of water as something that helps to express dominion over nature and society.
Another very interesting hydraulic work, of a completely different sign, is the dam of the Poma River.
Danilo Dolci's story tells of a type of relationship that is not one of control but one of liberation.
It is a dam that was not built to control the water, or to demonstrate the materiality of power, but it is a dam that was built to free the farmers of those areas from the mafia distribution of water.
Amico Dolci - Invaso Poma, province of Palermo.
It is a dam that was built collectively to distribute water in a democratic way and not to distribute water according to mafia dynamics, so much so that Amico Dolci, Danilo's son, refers to the dam as "sister dam".
00:00 / 01:10
We are made of our memory.
Being made up of seventy percent water doesn't interest me per se.
What interests me is to understand where the water is in my memory, both individual and collective.
And in my opinion the specific weight of water in my person is given not so much by this percentage, and therefore by the volume, but by the personal and collective memory we have with water.
To reach this awareness that water is not only a consumer good that must be used and wasted, but it is also something else, we need urban planning, art and literature.
And the Canticle of the Creatures of St. Francis is another example in which we see a different way of describing our relationship with water.
In the Canticle of Creatures, water is precious, chaste, and it is also a sister.
Miracle of the Source - Stories of St. Francis, by Giotto di Bondone, Upper Basilica of Assisi, 1295-1299
BLUE GOLD. STORIES OF WATER AND CLIMATE CHANGE
by Edoardo Borgomeo
Water is an essential element for human beings.
Our very life is conditioned by its presence or absence, its purity or its pollution, its uncontrollable strength or its search.
Nine stories from around the world tell us our most precious asset in the age of climate change.
A warmer planet means melting glaciers, less predictable rains, more frequent floods, advancing deserts.
In the water we see the effects of global warming.
But even if water is the protagonist of these changes, we are not passionate about it.
Maybe because we touch it, drink it and waste it every day.
Perhaps because it scares us
We know that it is ending and therefore we conjecture that the wars of the future will be fought for it.
Or, even worse, it will drown us all due to climate change.
Through nine stories of people whose life is deeply linked to water - on a journey that crosses Sicily, Bangladesh, Holland, Brazil, Iraq, England, Singapore and New Zealand - Blue Gold us lets you discover how water is intertwined with the economy, history, culture and life of each of us.
A narrative-reportage that, by combining interviews, historical episodes and scientific data, transforms our vision.
The thesis of this book is simple: water management is not just the task of engineers, economists or ecologists, but it is everyone's task.
Because without water, nothing is possible and it is our task to defend it, preserve it, prevent it from being wasted or polluted.
ESSENTIAL LINKOGRAPHY OF EDOARDO BORGOMEO
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