People and Water - Water Talk with Slovak NGO Chairman Michal Kravcik on the Eve of Copenhagen Conference - 1/2

NGO Chairman Michal Kravcik

Water is a mirror of the human culture. The results of Copenhagen´s Conference could have fundamental effect on stopping adverse and risky trends of climatic changes on Planet Earth.
Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in his "Memory for Forgetfulness" says about water": Who says water has no color, flavor of smell? Water does have a color that reveals itself in the unfolding of thirst... And water has the flavor of water, and a fragrance that is the scent of the afternoon breeze blown from a field with full ears of wheat waving in a luminous expanse strewn like the flickering spots of light left by the wings of a small sparrow fluttering low".

People and Water NGO encourages Slovaks to take advantage of their newly-minted democracy by organizing town meetings where citizens questioned officials about the legality of water usage. As result, in November 1996, the Environmental Ministry canceled the dam proposal. It was Michal Kravcik, Chairman of People and Water NGO who showed how drinking reservoirs had not been used in full and how much water was wasted by an old and repair - needed distribution systems. His alternative plan outlined the repair of these problems while minimizing the impact on environment.

The mission of the undertaking "People And Water" is to provide services to municipal and rural communities, mostly within the Carpathian region. The goal is to solve the economic, social, cultural and environmental problems on a grassroots level by encouraging citizens to be active through development, renewal and promotion of the traditional culture and diversity of this region.

In booklet "Alternative Wastewater Treatment" meant for professionals, local governments, and others wishing to solve problems related to the treatment and discharge of wastewater in small communities, Kravcik offers alternative, decentralized solutions to the traditional wastewater treatment plants typically used by larger communities. This pilot project is meant as model wastewater treatment for more than 2,400 villages in Slovakia.

Mr. Michal Kravcik, Chairman of the Slovak NGO People and Water, welcome to the interview

Q: With a group of Czech and Slovak activist, you are all set to participate at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen from 7 - 18 December 2009. Your contribution is titled "The Substantial Role of Water in the Climate System of the Earth". What are your expectations from Copenhagen conference and the role of water in the climate system of earth?
Michal Kravcik: My expectations are simple: to incorporate in the Copenhagen Protocol a mechanism of using water for recovery of the climate based not only on local and regional - but also on continental and global level of the Planet Earth. Until now, all initiatives for solution of climatic changes addressed only CO2 reduction, and through this, to stop the breakup of the Earth´s climatic system.

Somehow we keep forgetting that water is the thermoregulator of heat. So where there is enough water, the landscape heats only slowly, while where is dry weather, the landscape overheats fast reaching big differences in temperature e.g. between night and day - or winter and summer. According to our estimates, each year over 700 billion m3 rainwater vanishes from continents - that in the past had been soaked and saturated in soil, and evaporated in the atmosphere. This is how rainwater kept the climate within limits - without any extreme floods, droughts or sudden shifts in climate.

Q: Climate change is here. It's a reality. It's not in the imagination or a vision of the future. Climate change adds to the existing problems. It makes everything more complex. It's here now and we have to change. With your team you are author of "The New Theory of Global Warming", can you explain?
Michal Kravcik: Due to the built infrastructure of tiny canals, ditches, gullies and drains, the continents are getting rid of water from small hydrological cycles - water which then accumulates in the oceans. Because of reduction of volume of soaked rainwater in the soil, and reduction of evaporation, a huge amount of heat accumulates in the atmosphere, overheating it and creating chaos in the atmosphere. As a result, extreme weather increases, bringing about more frequent and more extreme floods, droughts and related risks of water insufficiency, famine and conflicts, while endangering the food safety.

In order to avoid all this, it is enough to create conditions globally that would allow rainwater - that has been currently flowing uselessly into seas - to stay and keep at the continents so that it could saturate in soil and evaporate into the atmosphere. Such creation of conditions for area / blanket / retention of rainwater at the continents requires a fundamental change in rainwater management, different to the existing principle - i.e. that rainwater is only a wastewater that we have to get rid of as quickly as possible - to a principle that it is vital to let rainwater to soak in the soil and return into the atmosphere. Change of water paradigm may result in the recovery of climate in ten years, while provide enough water for humans, food and nature.

Implementation of this concept may create several tens millions of jobs, which - in our present day global economic crisis - is by no means little.

Q: Your covering letter begins with a proverb of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius who wrote over 18 centuries ago: "A man does not sin by commission only, but often by omission" (Meditations, 9,5). The emperor-philosopher wrote part of his book on the banks of river Granova, what is now a Slovak river Hron. Can you explain and also the role of the Slovak river Hron?
Michal Kravcik: Emperor Marcus Aurelius mentions the Hron river as a place where he stayed when reinforcing his defense positions at the Northern borders of the Roman Empire. The river which in total length lies in the present Slovak territory, reminds us of the long years that this noble emperor spent at the then barbarians´ territory, and of his sense of duty to prepare himself for future threats.

Q: The need of the hour for humans is to change. One of my favorite songs by recently deceased King of Pop Michael Jackson says: "Make it a better place, for you and for me and the entire human race - there are people dying -if you care enough for the living -make a better place for you and for me. How we can do that?
Michal Kravcik: Water is a unique phenomenon on our Planet Earth, vital for the existence of life. Therefore, if we respect idea that water is our "common good", then it is unacceptable that we are expelling that "common good" from our environment - out to the sea. One of simple possibilities how to make good things is e.g. to let the rainwater pour down from the roofs not to the drains/sewerages, but to a garden pond, which will be giving joy not only myself, but also yourself. Such garden pond will contribute to recovery of the micro-climate in the area bringing back life and enjoyment of our environment, where we live, because the little pond´s micro-climate will have positive effect also on the surrounding environment´s micro-climate.

Water is a mirror of the human culture. The native people did not require mirrors to see themselves - they just looked into the water.

Q: At the same time voice are becoming louder that we shouldn't pin too many hopes on climate meeting at Copenhagen. What can be accomplished at Copenhagen?
Michal Kravcik: The results of the Copenhagen´s Conference could have fundamental effect on stopping the adverse and risky trends of climatic changes at the Planet Earth. There is, however, a great danger that some sort of "mass hysteria" may arise which would repress minority voices for possible alternative solutions - which could address the water issue in a more effective, cheaper and less conflicting way.

I feel that, up to now, the „carbon lobby" still persists and prevails, and is quite successful in making business with the greenhouse effects, without any essential attempts to stop the climatic changes. By adopting alternative approaches, the lobby would obviously lose profits. Strangely enough, this particular lobby managed to drag on their side also the most important environmental movements of the world.

My fear is that the Copenhagen Summit on the Climatic Change will be continuation of the fight against the climatic change only at the marginal front, without really adopting meaningful steps to stop the climatic change.

Q: The problem won`t go away and some say that the game of percentage cuts on past emission is fundamentally stupid, would it be better to talk real figures as how much more CO2 we can afford to dump into the atmosphere in the rest of this century. What is your view?
Michal Kravcik: I will answer by using the ideas of two Russian scientists, V.G. Gorshkov and A.M. Makariev: An organic carbon has been constantly entering the biosphere from the Earth´s crust. With the given inputs during the last billion of years, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere today should be a thousand times bigger in comparison with the current state. Thanks to the biotic regulation the sequestration compensated relatively very precisely the inorganic carbon emissions. In order to compensate the current anthropogenic carbon emissions, it would be enough to reduce the areas used by humans by ca 7 %, and at the same area, to restore the natural or close-to-natural ecosystems.

The Planet Mars´ atmosphere, for example, contains 95 % of CO2, while the Planet Earth´s atmosphere only 0,03 %. Despite this, the greenhouse effect on the Earth is six times greater than that on Mars. Even if we include the differences in both planets´s densities in the calculation, we can explain this discrepancy only by existence of water vapors and clouds at the Planet Earth. The difference in temperatures on Mars are more dramatic than those on the Earth. Despite the negative image created by mass media concerning fight against the greenhouse gases emissions, the climatic (and greenhouse) effect of water, which cools or heats the Earth according to needs, is vitally important for stabilization of climatic conditions on our Planet.

Q: The Czech President Vaclav Klaus, one of the world's most vocal skeptics on the topic of global warming, says there are increasing doubts in the scientific community about weather humans are causing changes in the climate of weather the changes are simply naturally occurring phenomena. In 2007 Klaus published a book on the worldwide campaign to stop climate change entitled "Blue Planet in Green Chains: What is under Threat - Climate or Freedom, please comment?
Michal Kravcik: Frankly, I have not read the Czech Presidents´s book. But personally I have no doubts that - apart from many other factors - part of climatic change has been caused by human activities. By shifting the majority voice on climatic changes to the marginal issue, only roots for the skeptics to argue that the climatic change in fact does not exist , or if it does, then it is beyond the human reach to influence it, because it is part of the Earth´s natural processes.

I consider this a very dangerous trend for the Planet Earth´s sustainable development.

Q: Water, water seems to be pouring from your writings. What water experts say, is that despite the world`s "wetter" status, the future of fresh water is in jeopardy. Are voices loud enough ?
Michal Kravcik: I often argue that it is not important how much water people use, but it is vital what they will do with it after they use it. The current civilization considers rainwater and used water as a waste - and this is a real tragedy! It is not enough to invent more and more sophisticated solutions how to use the last remaining bits of water more effectively. Now it is high time to launch the global restoration of small hydrological cycles at the continents. Only then it is possible to turn the dried-out yellowed regions into a green fertile land. At the moment, I with my partners work on the "Green Desert Project" in which we want to offer technologies that could restore water cycles also in the dried-up regions of the world.

Q: Conflicts over where the build dams, how to divert water to agriculture, who gets more water and why, have long been simmering issues that will only increase as worldwide population increases and water supplies diminish. These are tough questions. Are they also "moral questions"?
Michal Kravcik: The cause of lack of water on the Planet Earth is not the population growth, as often argued, but the fact that the management of water is based on metaphysical principle, i.e. we cannot interfere with it. As result, the legislation protects only water that we can see. We have a mental problem to understand that water which evaporated from the landscape is not a loss, but consequently returns back in nature in the form of rain. What follows is - that the water reservoir is a whole water cycle, which - if holed by e.g. city sewage system collecting and draining rainwater into the sea - starts to empty until it dries-up completely.

There are plenty of examples all over the world in form of extinct civilizations and cultures. Our current civilization works hard, too, to empty this water reservoir until dried-up, and the life with it.

Q: Areas with abundant water supplies are busily drafting contracts that guarantee them rights or profitable gains over their water. One would say the same story of human "greed". What other alternatives are there?
Michal Kravcik: Many mega-projects have been launched which will probably fuel the business spirals with the last remains of fresh water. Strangely enough, also in the dried-up regions it is possible to restore water resources - even to their original condition - like there were several thousands years ago, when that country was thriving with green, streams and rivers with clean transparent water. The alternative is to restore water in small hydrological cycles.

At the beginning of 90-ties, we have elaborated the "Blue Alternative" aimed at creation of water resources. In those days, the "Blue Alternative" was the alternative to a dam, financially several times cheaper . Gradually, we gained knowledge that this alternative addressed not only water resources, but also it restored the production potential of soils, biodiversity and recovered the climate.

Q: It is widely assumed that urbanization will continue. But this is not necessarily so. The growing scarcity of water and the high cost of the energy investing in transporting water over long distances may itself being to constrain urban growth. Are eco-cities and building cities in balance with nature the answer?
Michal Kravcik: It is historical fact, that cities grew both in population and in the territory. At the beginning, there was a community that usually settled next to a water source or spring. As the community grew, it was changing its environment including conditions of permanent supplement of water resource by rainfall, and so the resource dried-out. People started digging wells, gradually exploiting the underground waters. The community then transported water through pipelines from the close areas, later also from the more distant places, and so the water resources gradually dried-out and dried-out completely. As a result, the climatic conditions also changed (less rainfalls), until the community endangered its own existence , leading to sole jeopardy of the community itself. They consequently moved to another place, where there was water, and did the same mistakes again.

Today, we have attacked the last water supplies, and those who still have them can look forward to a big business in the 21st century. This, however, is not sustainable, as those resources are depletable, and ways of using water do not secure restoration.

Certain hope arises in the urban development concepts based on the eco-city principles, however, in present days it is still only in position of a fashionable hit - i.e. use of renewable energy sources, waste recycling, public transportation.

Water management, however, remains in position of an old paradigm : to drain away rainwater as quickly as possible, and to bring new clean spring water to cities from the nature. The principle of eco-cities will be functioning on ecological principles only provided that not even a drop of rainwater from the city area would be drained directly into the nearest stream.

Q: Early cities relied on food and water from the surrounding countryside, but today cities often depend on distant sources even for basic amenities. The evolution of modern cities is tied to advances in transport, initially for ships and trains combined with cheap oil that provided the mobility of people and freight that fueled the phenomenal urban growth of the twentieth century. In terms of water fresh water availability, how will the cities of future look like?
Michal Kravcik: In my native city of Kosice, we started first with working on a concept that not even a drop of rainwater flows away, and so that the owner of a house or land accepted the water use principles at priority, and uses energy of the site and recycles not only the waste, but also water. However, the politicians did not culturally accept the concept, as it would endanger their profits. In essence, this model elaborates a system that would recycles everything in the environment in which humans live. And we have to begin with water. The precipitation in a city amounting to e.g. 100 million m3 water annually represents an enormous potential, one can do wonders with it.

The existing concept of urban development is based on draining away of rainwater, and on bringing new water to the city from rural areas through pipelines. This is a double mistake and very short-sighted.

Q: Is Water becoming 'the new oil'? Population, pollution, and climate put the squeeze on potable supplies - and private companies smell a profit. Others ask, should "water" be a human right, what is your view?
Michal Kravcik: A human right cannot exist, where water is treated in a irresponsible way. I suppose it is irrelevant/incongruous to speak about e.g. rights for water if there is no responsibility for water. And where water is treated in a irresponsible way, there is lack of water, and „good business" with water is thriving. It is „in" to speak and lead campaigns against privatization of water resources. It is essential to realize that if there is more water in environment we live in, there will be no pressure on privatization of water resources.

Therefore we should return rainwater and wastewater after use back into the water cycle ; this is the way how we can address not only lack of water, but also strengthen human rights.

Ing Michal Kravcik, CSc, completed his studies in Waterworks Construction and Water Management at the Slovak Technical University and worked for the Institute of Hydrology and Hydraulics and the Institute of Ecology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences. Ing. Michal is founder of the People and Water NGO in Kosice, Slovakia. He is the most prominent representative of the People and Water NGO, which has been awarded the EU-USA Prize for Deomocracy and Civil Society Development.

Michal Kravcik was awarder the Goldman Environmental Prize and is a member of ASHOKA - Innovators for the Public, an international network of innovators who contribute for common good.

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