Journalist Speaks on Worldwide Water Crisis Monday

October 07, 2009

Journalist Speaks on Worldwide Water Crisis MondayMost Americans can get clean drinking water from a faucet. But millions of people around the world don’t have the luxury of having clean drinking water at all. Former New York Times reporter Joseph B. Treaster will discuss the worldwide water crisis in his presentation “Social Justice: Who Has the Right to a Drink of Water?” at 7 p.m., Monday, October 12, in the Student Community Center on the main campus. 

The talk is the second in the university’s Distinguished Speaker Series for 2009-10. It is free and open to the public.

Treaster brings an international reporting background and wealth of current experience to this profound problem. After more than 30 years at The New York Times, he joined the faculty of the University of Miami School of Communication as the John S. and James L. Knight Chair in Cross Cultural Communication, and serves as editor of the environmental Web site The online magazine publishes articles, photographs, videos, and commentaries that shed light on problems stemming from the global water crisis.

Treaster agreed to an interview to preview his talk for the Saint Leo audience. 

Question: Why devote an environmental-news Web site solely to water issues, as compared to broader environmental issues?

Answer: Well, we think water is at the center of all environmental issues and we believe we can make a stronger case for the environment by focusing on this issue. The broad issue of the environment can be blurry for many people. Without water there isn’t any life, there is no environment. It’s just such a fundamental, it seemed like a natural focal point. It’s under-reported.

We can show this little picture that is part of the global picture, a family in Nairobi that was hospitalized just because they got sick from dirty water. These incidents add up to hundreds of millions of people who are sick just because of dirty water. It’s something that needs action. They’re an actual family and they’re in pain, and they don’t have to be.

Q: How do you find and train multimedia reporters all over the world to do this?

A: I’ve been the Knight Chair in Cross Cultural Communication for a little more than a year and I have many occasions to travel around the world, a dozen counties last year, and several this year. As I travel, I meet reporters, writers, and editors and tell that what we’re doing, so all my travel includes some recruitment. As I recruit journalists and they start seeing these issues, they not only write stories for me, but they begin suggesting stories for their own publications. Most of our writers are either freelancers or staff writers for other publications, so I’m able to inspire better coverage over the world, and we hope they will continue working with us.

We’re looking for writers all the time and some of our writers are students.

Q: Do any other news outlets pick up your stories?

A: I write a weekly blog. It’s a combination of reporting and insights, and it is published by, which has 3 million visitors monthly, and ours is still in the thousands. I’m still looking for places that would like to publish our columns. We have links with many universities and environmental sites, an open invitation to put up a link to our site. We’re a growing organization. Almost all environmental Web sites are aggregators, they republish material published somewhere else. Ours is giving you original material that you won’t get anywhere else.

Q: Who is equipped to confront these water problems, which are not new to humankind?

A: Yes, we always have had problems with water. The most immediate serious problems around the world have to do with poverty. A staggering number of people don’t have any place to go to the bathroom every day, and they don’t have a regular, reliable source of water, so they get sick. Their hands are dirty. The combination of that and not having enough water–and if the water they get out of the ground is not fit to drink–that will make you sick, sometimes they are acute illnesses, some are chronic.

Governments and social service agencies are the ones to fix these problems, and water doesn’t have the highest priority. And yet, it is fundamental in health. You can’t live without water. Some huge percentage of hospital beds in the world are filled up people with some disease carried in water. It would be more cost-effective to clean up the water, piping it into peoples’ homes and provide toilets.

Q: What is the movie “One Water” about, and what relationship does it bear to

A: “One Water” is a documentary film that Sanjeev Chatterjee of the Knight Center for International Media created over about five years. He went to 14 countries, sometimes with more than one crew, and they photographed–mostly–the worldwide water crisis. They did make some exceptions and show the joy of water, so we see a water festival in Japan and we see people in public baths in Austria. This film became our anchor project at the Knight Center, and the father of, which I edit. I’m bringing a short version of the film and a long version of the film with me. There are negotiations underway for general release of the movie. We’ve been having sneak previews at certain universities.