NWNL Press

NWNL Press

An Interview with Alison Jones

by Carina Finn
(Reprinted from Alive Magazine, June 16, 2008)

Note: Carina Finn is an intern from Sweet Briar College for NWNL.

ALISON JONES has two passions – photography and the environment. Gathering a team of photographers, scientists, researchers, writers and advisors in December 2006, she founded No Water No Life™. This non-profit organization has allowed her to combine her passions in a way that is truly changing the world.

Alison Jones

Alison on the Omo River, Ethiopia
Photo © Nancy McCarthy

No Water No Life™ combines scientific research, stakeholder knowledge and photography to translate difficult facts and figures in a way that is accessible to the public. The organization also publicizes issues of freshwater availability, quality and usage. The team focuses on six case study watersheds: the Mississippi, Colorado and Raritan River Basins in North America; and Mara, Omo and Blue Nile River Basins in northeastern Africa. Alison’s expedition teams travel to each watershed to document their unique issues and relationship to other watersheds.

In Africa, women walk 15-17 hours per week to fetch water. While many people realize that developing nations have freshwater shortages, this scarcity is a global issue. There are worldwide shortages of fresh water for consumption (drinking, bathing and laundry), agriculture, sanitation and industry. And although two-thirds of the earth is covered by water, only 3 percent of that is fresh water. Of that 3 percent, less than 1 percent can actually be used because the rest is ice, groundwater and soil moisture.

Alison cites the apparent abundance of water in the Western world as a contributing factor to our lack of concern. However, the American Southwest already faces freshwater shortages, and Californians already drink recycled water.

“In the desert ecosystem of San Diego, residents are now drinking ‘black water’ filtered through high-tech membrane systems. In Africa, composting toilets save water while providing desperately needed sanitation. Acceptance of these technologies may be challenging, but there will come a time when we will all probably have to face such changes,” Alison said.

The global population continues to increase, yet there is a finite amount of water on the planet. At current rates, we will double our water use every 20 years. However, the water will not adjust to us; we will have to adjust to the water. To avoid severe freshwater crises in the coming years we must focus on conservation. “We must understand the dangers implicit in unmet freshwater needs,” Alison said, referencing a UN report claiming that future wars will be fought over water rights.

“Establishing sustainable resource management is even more important for younger generations than for mine,” Alison stated. In order to keep young people involved and aware, No Water No Life™ is planning a middle school curriculum to encourage students to study and publicize watershed issues in their own back yards. Such partnerships between school districts would teach children to work with their communities for the good of the whole watershed.

“No Water No Life™ focuses on fostering awareness upstream and downstream, river to river, nation to nation and continent to continent.”

Alison was influenced by other concerned photographers, especially Dorothea Lange, Lewis Hine and Sebastiao Salgado. Her grandfather, who explained riparian rights (the system of allocating water usage to land owners near the sources) to her at age 8, also had a huge impact on her. Like her mentors, she strongly believes that raising public awareness can lead to active conservation.

“Reducing personal consumption is an important first step. The beginning is really about simple things, like turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth, taking shorter showers and recycling gray water onto thirsty plants.”

Finding support from professional associations is critical to the success of this project. The International League of Conservation Photographers and the North American Nature Photography Association have taught Alison how to develop and promote her vision. Wings WorldQuest gave No Water No Life™ its 501(c)(3) sponsorship.

When asked for her advice to young women wanting to start their own organization, Alison answered, “You better have a deep passion and be organized. It’s not just about taking pretty pictures and exotic travel. I’ve had to set up a business structure, organize flow charts, create Excel templates, set budgets for grant-givers and acquire other skills not inherent to me as a photographer. I’ve also learned to withhold judgment and listen to both sides.”

No Water No Life™ has made amazing progress concerning public awareness of freshwater resources; and in the years to come, Alison believes it can only get better. The organization has already conducted seven expeditions that gather and distribute imagery and stakeholder interviews via its website (www.nowater-nolife.org), print media, exhibits and lectures. Eventually she plans to publish a book documenting the project’s six case study watersheds. Alison is a woman working to create a public will to establish access to clean water for all people around the world. This project is an inspiration for anyone with a passion to make a difference.

This article first appeared as “No Water, No Life: An Interview with Alison Jones” in Alive Magazine, June 16, 2008.