St. Louis Explorers Club – “Water Is Life”
By Lisa Watson
(Reprinted from the The Ladue News, Sept. 30, 2010)
Pictured, from left: Sue and John Hume, Peggy Nacke, Alison Jones, Mary Burke, Lotsie Holton, Benjamin Hulsey, Gretchen Freund. Photo courtesy of the Explorers Club.
WE who live in countries where resources are abundant barely give those resources a thought. If we want a glass of water for ourselves, our pets or our houseplants, we turn on the tap and there it is. But things become much more complicated – and life-threatening – in places where water is harder to access.
Creating awareness about the seminal role of water is the mission of a nonprofit, No Water No Life, started in 2006 by conservation photographer Alison Jones. Jones was in St. Louis recently, hosted by the Explorers Club St. Louis, to talk about her travels in Africa and her observations about how water impacts everything from education to existence.
Through No Water No Life, Jones combines photography and scientific research to raise awareness about the importance of water resources and opportunities for sustainable resource management. “Water is finite,” she says, “and photography shows the consequences of ignoring that truth.”
She says the idea for the nonprofit became clear when she climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and a fellow climber explained that in plate tectonics, water is the lubricant that allows the earth’s plates to move. That showed her how vital water is not only to life, but to the planet itself. “Just as I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro one step at a time, I decided to raise awareness one photo at a time.”
Jones has made expeditions to record the condition of six watersheds in the United States and Africa. She was awarded an Explorers Club Flag for her expedition to the Mara River Basin in Kenya and Tanzania in 2009. Carrying the flag, which Explorers Club members have brought to the moon as well as to both the North and South poles, is an honor granted only to trips of ‘scientific merit.’
During her travels, Jones says she learned in a visceral way how dependent on water people all over the world are. In Africa, she recalls seeing young girls who couldn’t go to school because they need to spend hours every day carrying fresh water to their homes.
Jones also points out that more nations are fighting over fresh water as demand grows. Unsanitary water kills 5 million to 12 million people annually, she adds, noting that in many places, droughts are becoming longer and more frequent. While studying the Mara River Basin in Kenya, she saw dramatic loss of forests due to logging, and noted that deforestation directly impacts drought. “We must all learn that our forests are faucets that turn our fresh water supplies on and off as needed,” she says. When the forests of the Mara River Basin became depleted, the river dried up. This led local villagers to travel for days without food or water, trying to find suitable grazing land for their flocks.
Although some dispute the origin of climate change, its effects are visible, Jones says. “Scientists have indeed made some errors, but I highly recommend paying attention to the overall message,” she comments. One of the most visible effects of climate change is the melting of glaciers, which raises the sea levels and floats salt into fresh waters, further depleting the already limited supply of fresh water, she says. Closer to home, water has also had a devastating effect, Jones reminds, in events like Hurricane Katrina, which she says resulted in more evacuees than the legendary Dust Bowl of the ’30s.
Improving water supplies could require some tough choices and major changes, Jones says, but preservation of fresh water is vital. “After all, every species that has evolved on this planet depends on water.”