Water management requires global attention

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By Jeremy Brigham


Who would have guessed that global efforts to help people deal with too much or too little water would be stymied by American policy toward Palestine? But it’s true, and the Cedar Rapids story of the flooding of 2008 is part of the picture.

The Iowa Cedar River Basin is one of 91 river basins worldwide selected by UNESCO-HELP (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization-Hydrology for Environment, Life and Policy) for the purpose of applying the best scientific knowledge, instituting integrated water resource management, and for sharing water knowledge and expertise.

Ongoing recovery from the flood of 2008 and protection from future floods are of primary concern for Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and other area cities, as well as for farmers along the two rivers. At the time, it was the fifth greatest disaster that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had dealt with.

Looking at a larger scale, the reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus flowing into the rivers is also a major concern. It extends throughout the Mississippi-Missouri watershed as what flows from here reaches the Gulf of Mexico where it creates one of the largest “dead zones” in the world.

River flooding occurs worldwide. Thus, water management either in times of excessive or deficient water is a great concern requiring global attention.

The Iowa Cedar Basin is the one of three interior U.S. water basins included in the UNESCO-HELP program. Besides the catastrophic nature of the 2008 floods, the presence of IIHR-Hydrology and Engineering and the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa are reasons for the choice of the Iowa Cedar Basin. While IIHR began in 1920 to study river systems and hydraulics, the Iowa Flood Center began there in 2010 following the floods of 2008.

An important goal of UNESCO-HELP is the sharing of information. The Iowa Cedar Basin has been matched with the Tweed River on the border of Scotland and England and the São Francisco River in Brazil for this purpose.

Our local, state, and national focus tends to overlook the global significance of what has happened here.

When people meet in Cedar Rapids on Friday for the “Five Years Out” symposium, UNESCO’s Institute for Water Education is holding its fifth international meeting since 1991 in Delft, the Netherlands.

People in the Iowa Cedar River Basin can both contribute to and benefit from this international dialogue. Unfortunately, the United States withdrew funding from UNESCO after it recognized Palestine in October 2011. As the USA has provided 22 percent of UNESCO’s funding, all of its scientific, educational, and cultural work is severely affected. This scenario exemplifies the way our world is interconnected. The local flooding is connected to Palestinian statehood!

The United States should repeal the 1994 law that required it to cut funding to any international agency that recognized Palestine, and vigorously cooperate with the international community for the sake of helping people all over the world cope with water management, as well as share in many other educational and scientific endeavors.

Jeremy Brigham is a Social Science professor at Kirkwood Community College and vice president for Programs, Linn County Chapter, United Nations Association. Comments: brighamjeremy@q.com


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