Sunday, October 15, 2006

James Salzman's A short history of drinking water on SSRN

Jim Salzman, my old friend and colleague from WCL before he decamped to Duke Law School, has posted on SSRN a fascinating paper on the history of potable water.

I myself come to this topic by a roundabout means - the problem of potable water in war and armed conflict. It is widely understood that in most conflicts, vast amounts of the harm inflicted on noncombatants arises from the lack of safe water. Disease, thirst, and so on all arise within days of the shortage. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been working on various initiatives - but if you were to ask me to identify an area in which the US government could work well with the ICRC and others to come up with a combination of legal standards and technical/technological solutions, this would be it. But if your interest in water arises from war, then the general history of drinking water becomes irresistible, and that is what Jim has provided here, apparently as part of an on-going book project. I bet that it is a book with potential markets among a general audience - it's a pretty easy book to see on the general nonfiction shelves.

Anyway, congratulations to Jim on a terrific paper; here is the abstract and downloadable paper at SSRN:

From earliest times, human societies have faced the challenge of supplying adequate quality and quantities of drinking water. Whether limited by arid environments or urbanization, provision of clean drinking water is a prerequisite of any enduring society, but it is a daunting task for drinking water is a multi-faceted resource. Drinking water is most obviously a physical resource, one of the few truly essential requirements for life. Drinking water is also a cultural resource, of religious significance in many societies; a social resource, access to water reveals much about membership in society; a political resource, the provision of water to citizens can serve important communication purposes; and finally, when scarce, water can become an economic resource. As recent conflicts in developing countries make clear, managing and mediating these many facets of drinking water is no easy matter. Understanding a society's ability to provide clean drinking water to its citizens, examining how it recognizes the different natures of this vital resource, provides a unique prism on the society's organization, equity, and view of itself. In seeking to understand better how societies manage such a critical resource, this article considers three questions. How have different societies thought about drinking water? How have different societies managed access to drinking water? And how have these changed over time? These questions are, of course, interrelated. How we think of water, whether as a sacred gift or a good for sale, both influences and is influenced by how we manage access to drinking water. While not an obvious issue to us in 21st century America, management of drinking water as a resource - who gets it, when they get it, and how much they get - matters a great deal. Written for a symposium celebrating the scholarship of Carol Rose, this article synthesizes research to date from an ongoing book project on the history of drinking water. Using a case study approach, we journey on a wide-ranging geographical and historical tour, briefly exploring drinking water management in societies across five continents, from 5,000 years ago up through today. Along the route, we find that something as seemingly simple as drinking water washes clear a society's views toward the role of government, norms, and the market.

5 comments:

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It is widely understood that in most conflicts, vast amounts of the harm inflicted on noncombatants arises from the lack of safe water.

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I bet that it is a book with potential markets among a general audience - it's a pretty easy book to see on the general nonfiction shelves.

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