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Soliciting Case Studies Concerning Conflicts over Water
I am a water professional trained in city planning who is studying theological ethics at Boston University's School of Theology. There, I am concentrating on ecological ethics with regard to water management, with a special interest in access to water as a human right. For my practicum in the coming academic year, I am undertaking a series of conversations about water as a human right with people around Boston who are affiliated with Engineers Without Borders. My goal over the year is to work toward clarifying some moral criteria pertaining to development and allocation of water resources in order to assist civil engineers, economists, scientists, and others who are technically-oriented in decisions they may have to make regarding water resource management. Given the prospect of climate change in coming years, its potential impact on water supplies, and reports of existing and growing water scarcity in places around the globe, better guidance in these questions seems to be needed.
In order to ground this work in specific problems involving conflicts over water rather more than in theory, I am asking for suggestions about cases that may help to bring some of these ethical questions to the surface. My purpose here, too, is to find material that will be interesting to people who are technically-trained, but also morally concerned. So, if you know of cases involving water conflicts that involve ethical questions that you think will be interesting for your peers to learn about, or, perhaps better, have come across cases that have left you a little concerned or even troubled, please let me know about them. I am trying to come up with three cases to consider with people in Boston in our conversations next academic year. All suggestions for problems worth examining are welcome. You may send your thoughts to me through Julie Gagen/Mass State Representative.
Updated on 6/3/09 (see attached for full description)
A Human Right to Water?
Beginning Ethical Consideration of Water Development and Allocation Decisions
Water, often now a limited resource, has historically been at the center of tensions between
competing interests in locations all over the Earth. Increasing population pressures, combined
with the prospect of climate change and reports of water scarcity worldwide, are making
decisions about water development and allocation not just difficult, but painful. In these
circumstances, those who contribute to such decisions – scientists, engineers, economists, and
others who are often schooled and trained primarily in technical fields – may find themselves ill‐
prepared to come to what they believe to be equitable solutions to very challenging social and
This project proposes to test over the coming academic year what theological and ethical
reflection may offer to help clarify some of the choices that lie with these decision‐makers –
choices that may affect persons, cities, and regions for years, or even for generations. Working in
Boston with technically‐oriented professionals and students who also feel some moral concern
about the consequences for others of their work in the water field, this undertaking will make
water as a human right the starting point for a cycle of discussions that try to discern some
helpful guidelines for these hard choices.
The project has three goals:
• Identify case studies that bring some of the current ethical issues present in water
development and allocation forward. These cases are intended to provide shared
material for joint discernment toward strong grounds for ethical decision‐making in this
• Identify a small set of questions that encourage decision‐makers in the water business to
examine for themselves with greater depth and clarity the implications and consequences
of the choices that they make.
• Work toward articulating a small number of criteria that provide guidance and support
to those involved in making decisions about water supply and sanitation in light of the
challenges that are named above.