The water wars have begun in Bhopal

According to The Guardian, Bhopal and many parts of Northern India are facing a late monsoon and the driest June in 83 years:

In Bhopal, which bills itself as the City of Lakes, patience is already at breaking point. The largest lake, the 1,000-year-old, man-made Upper Lake, had reduced in size from 38 sq km to 5 sq km by the start of last week.

The population of 1.8 million has been rationed to 30 minutes of water supply every other day since October. That became one day in three as the monsoon failed to materialise. In nearby Indore the ration is half an hour’s supply every seven days.

Much of India is dependent on a yearly monsoon from June to September to replenish lakes and reservoirs. When the rains are late, there just isn’t enough water. Of course, it’s the poorest of the poor that suffer the most in a situation like this.

I came across a photo essay from the BBC about the shortages in Mumbai earlier today as well. This could be just the tip of the iceberg (although that’s probably a poor choice of words).

Vetting advertisers

Yesterday, I off-handedly had an idea that could be a business model for news organizations: vetting advertisers. Under the assumption that an organization practicing journalism builds its credibility though truthfulness, transparency, and accuracy, there exists the possibility that they could then monetize that credibility by taking product claims through the ringer. Not selling out, per se, but rather by selling time and attention. Companies would pay you because they want to be associated with your authority; in order to get this authority, however, they’d have to surpass a set of open source criteria. We shouldn’t be taking the human touch out of advertising because then, every so often, you get something like this:


at the bottom of an article about bottled water and greenwash advertising. In my opinion, Lighter Footstep is now sending two contradictory messages: bottled water is killing our environment, and that I should pay a premium to have bottled water shipped from the South Pacific. This juxtaposition is broken because the misleading advertising has the opportunity to negate the value of the journalism.

Later: Dave Winer speculates on a “Digg for ads” which falls under this same idea of vetting advertisements (although crowdsourcing this time).

In the news: demonstrations in Haiti, climate feedback in the Arctic, and number near starvation skyrockets

News that caught my interest in the past week:

Demonstrations in Haiti – The Freeport News
Hopes of the new US president supporting former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s return to power could lead to increased demonstrations and violence in Haiti.

Your Guide to Alternative Business Models for Newspapers – PBS Mediashift
A roundup of online business models for newspapers. None are strikingly original, however. More so, they just seem like attempts to justify huge news organizations.

Has the Arctic melt passed the point of no return? – The Independent
Study published may indicate the arctic is already experiencing a feedback loop because of climate change.

Evolution of the Web – Worldchanging
Lebkowsky argues that traditional marketing is going to face a serious wakeup call in 2009.

Oil Is Not the Climate Change Culprit – It’s All About Coal – Wired Science
Research is showing that coal is the significant contributor to climate change, and that oil is only a drop in the bucket.

Waking up to a morning without the newspaper – OregonLive
Oregonian decides to stop delivering to houses in the Eugene-Springfield area, and the old readers are disappointed.

Global food crisis needs global treaty, says Britain’s environment chief – The Guardian
“The number of people facing starvation worldwide rose 40 million to 963 million during 2008, mostly as a result of rising food prices.” Wow.

via Publish2

In the news, ending 13 November 2008

International news that caught my interest in the past couple of days:

The Struggle for Water – New York Times
A telling set of images from Delhi about the dismal state of water access for the majority of the population.

Sibal rules out global action plan on climate change – Yahoo! India News
India rules out a global action plan for addressing climate change in favor of local initiatives. Although this initially reads negative to me, there is high potential for specific, decentralized solutions. It’ll be interesting to see whether the national government is actually able to inspire movement on the ground level.

Plan for new Maldives homeland – BBC
The president-elect says he wants to buy a new homeland for Maldives islanders because of the potential threat from rising sea levels. The Maldives are “just about 3 feet” above sea level.

via Publish2

A short story of Creative Commons

Last January, I was invited to photograph Focus the Nation Live! at Chiles Center. After the event, I posted the images on Flickr, with the assumption that they would be valuable to someone at sometime in the future.

Student panelists

They were, as it turns out. In the most recent issue, E/The Environmental Magazine uses the image above in an article titled, “Activism: Environmental Education.” Quite sweet to have at least one be used, and I now have another clip for my portfolio.


From my experiences, there are generally two ways to visit a foreign country. The first, and more accepted method of tourism, is to transition cultures gradually, testing the waters, wading in the shallow end, and then going for a nice swim in the deep. Such a method lets the traveler choose his own adventure, per se, and quickly evacuate if so needed. A second, less common method way is to, metaphorically, dive right in with a graceful arc. From a cliff even, if desireable.

Whether by accident or purpose, or accidently on purpose, I managed to do the latter. And, ironically enough, the waters I’ve seen so far are certainly not suitable for swimming.

On the wonderfully short Chicago to Delhi flight, I had the surprising chance to sit next to Steve Barg of the International Institute of Sustainable Development. The organization is a non-profit think tank based in Winnepeg with work all over the world. Not one to miss a genuine opportunity, I hounded him with questions for at least two of the fourteen hour flight. One current project he mentioned is establishing “adaptive policy design” which, paraphrasing crudely, is teaching governments that the strategies they outline this year won’t necessarily hold true for the next ten; officials had better be flexible if they don’t want to be ousted.

Under this philosophy, Steve’s organization is, for instance, researching how best to manage farmers facing “double exposure,” or those under pressure from both international trade policy and climate change. In India, the situation will only become more dire in the near future for at least two reasons: “global weirding” is causing rainfall to become less and less predictable, and farmers unsustainably exploit groundwater because both the water and power for their electric pumps is completely free. Sparing the boring details, it made my flight over quite a bit more interesting.

For many people, the first indicator they are in this foreign country might be the semi-permanent “Under Construction” signs at the airport, the seedy looking men waiting outside the customs gate to offer “free taxi to cheap hotel” or the, uh, organic smells as they step out into the night. For me, it was just how many people jumped to their feet to queue for the door seconds after the landing gear touched the runway, and how the flight attendant had to verbally abuse them over the loudspeaker to get them sitting back down. Very different introductions than getting lei’d at the door in Hawaii.

From Delhi, I journeyed by early morning train to Kanpur, site of nothing less than one of the most polluted stretches of Ganga. Upon arriving, I made my first traveler mistake by paying the three-wheeler driver before I confirmed I was at the correct place. Pack on back, my penance included walking four miles in the heat and asking over 30 people for the right direction.

The effort was worth it, however, as I spent the better part of 8 through 10 February with the two person staff of Eco Friends, a NGO working to restore the physical health of the river. To give a sense of it’s currently deplorable condition, less than a quarter of all Kanpur’s waste water is treated before it is released. The rest, 80 percent domestic and 20 percent industrial, drains directly into the water both above and below the intake station for the city water supply. Furthermore, the waste which does get treated often is handled improperly before used for irrigation. Toxins from the 300 plus tanneries cause serious health problems for both people and animals in the farming villages scattered around the area. Topping all of this off is the fact the river is diverted above the town for sugar cane irrigation, which reduces its flow nearly to a standstill. Through the knowing help of a quiet, soft-spoken Rakesh Jaiswal and his assistant whom I would be sure to misspell the name of, I was able to capture much of this with my lens.

Last Saturday, in the calm before an eight hour bus ride from the Hindu equivalent of Hades, I rose early to attend a boat rally organized by both Eco Friends and IIT Kanpur. We launched above the town at the diversion barrage to spend some time floating down the river and documenting its wounds for a report to be submitted to the local government. Being the only American, of course, also made me the honored guest, and I was invited to speak in front of the camera about the issue. I apologise in advance to my countrymen for any embarassment I’ve caused our great nation.

As per Rakesh’s request, Allahabad became the next point of destination for my chautauqua. Proving himself one of the kindest men I have ever met, he extended an invitation to attend a conference on the state of groundwater pollution in Uttar Pradesh which included all of my meals and, because every single place in town was booked, a room at the nicest hotel.

This most certainly was the high point of my luck.

In a journal entry I wrote the following evening titled “Things that have sucked in the past 24 hours,” I explored some of the ways the trip began to roll fast down a very tall hill:

  • Not being able to get a hotel room on the second night because of Magh Mela
  • Not being able to photograph Magh Mela, the primary point of my excursion, because I did not have anyone to go with and wasn’t about to get assaulted going alone
  • Not being able to get a hotel room
  • Getting accosted by a man from Andra Pradesh who wanted me to raise money for their supposed organization in the States and send it back. He and his partner in crime cornered me in a hotel room after saying they would go to Magh Mela with me. It reminded me of my mom’s stories of Amway
  • Being homesick and wondering just what the hell I am doing in this country
  • Thinking about [redacted] and how much I miss her company
  • Wondering why the hell I started thinking about [redacted] so much
  • Wondering just where the hell I am going next, and whether there will be a bed to sleep there
  • Finding it ironic that, so far, the only other Americans I’ve met have been a nutso Canadian and an Indian national
  • Learning it is impossible to book a ticket for any future travel at Allahabad Junction
  • Having the lights go off and on every five minutes and wondering how sketchy this place really is
  • Learning the wall I’ve been leaning against for the past half hour gives off some sort of chalky, white powder I hope isn’t dried pee

Had I waited until three the next morning to write the entry, I might also have included having to sleep on the station platform in twenty-something degree weather with no blanket. Thank something high above for the foresight to pack long underwear!

By taping together scraps of old paper and using some ingenious calligraphy, I finally scored a general class ticket to Varanasi. My two days and one night were spent primarily walking up and down the ghats, wide steps leading to the Ganga for bathing, and appreciating the ancient beauty of the scene. For the morning I was there, I booked a Rs 150 boat ride at dawn to photograph around, oh, 70 tourist boats and exactly three bathers. Monday had been some huge festival which starts with a “B” and has a “P” somewhere along the way, and apparently all the pilgrims got their washing done earlier.

The boat tour was followed by my traditional “crazy white guy” run at a famous location. In a fashion similar to my expedition down from Machu Picchu, I dodged people, animals, sacred ceremonies and cremations alike for quality exercise. I can safely say I am the first person I’ve seen out jogging for fun and not from the police. The path itself was consistent with only occasional stairs, so I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested. It might be in my future to compile a Top Runs of the World in the near future.

Yesterday afternoon passed like an old jalopy I have never ridden in, jerking forward at times and dying completely at others. Not being able to interview someone at the Samkat Mochan Foundation because I spent an hour and a half trying to figure out which ghat the research lab was at really put a bolt in my gears, and I didn’t get the crowded bathing scene at the river I wanted. In an attempt to live up to the “Tourist” label on my visa, I went to visit the Golden Temple nearer the middle of the city. No dice. The surrounding area was crawling with soldiers armed to the teeth, and they weren’t allowing mobile phones or cameras; I had both which I wasn’t about to lose to a shop owner.

Now in Kolkata, I plan to spend a few days on my project and visiting the most famous landmarks. I’m optimistic I’ve made the right connections for some stellar imagery.

One last piece of advice: having the holy Lonely Planet out in public makes even the most gnarly looking traveler a magnet for an entire university of touts.