Updates - NYIT Office of the President
Opening Remarks: Water Management and Global Challenges
Oct 16 2012


On October 16, distinguished experts addressed the global challenges of water management at an NYIT conference attended by 120 people in Beijing, China. The conference on "Water Management and Global Challenges" featured speakers from leading global and water technology companies, academics, and government officials.

Featured left to right above: Honorable Ning LIU, Ph.D., Vice Minister of Water Resources; The Ministry of Water Resources of the People’s Republic of China; Nada Marie ANID, Ph.D., Dean, School of Engineering and Computing Sciences, NYIT;  Xikun YUAN; Standing Member, Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Goodwill Ambassador, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); Kenza KAOUAKIB-ROBINSON, Secretary of UN-Water and Senior Sustainable Development Officer, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Edward GUILIANO, Ph.D., NYIT President; Chunmiao ZHENG, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Water Resources; Director of the Center for Water Research, Peking University; and Fengyun LEI, Deputy Director General, Department of Educational and Cultural Experts, State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs.

Following are opening remarks delivered by President Guiliano: 

Ni hao. It is a pleasure to welcome you all here today. 

Universities play a vital role in solving some our planets greatest challenges, and NYIT through its research, service and teaching embraces its global responsibility as a learned citizen of the world. 

Let me acknowledge and thank the Ministry of Water Resources of the People’s Republic of China and the Center for Water Research at Peking University.

I also want again thank our conference sponsors whose names will be shown throughout the day.  

NYIT is a frequent organizer of and participant at conferences around the globe. In 2010 we co-sponsored a Think Green conference on sustainability in Nanjing, China and I often speak about sustainability, but what is different about talking about energy supply and climate change is they are man-made problems that are relatively new. 

Access to clean and safe drinking water is an ancient problem as is adequate supply of irrigation water to grow food where it is needed. Alexander the Great died from drinking impure water. And epic famines are all prevalent in our histories and conflicts. Today the problems are compounded by our tremendous population growth and the fact that now more than half the world’s population lives in cities. My own city, New York is blessed with abundant water, but the technology to transport and guard it is getting old.  Indeed, the last water tunnel was completed in 1936 and the previous one in 1917. A third tunnel was begun in 1970 and will not be completed until 2020. It is the biggest construction project in the history of New York City. 

And while we can look to the heavens for solutions to our water issues, the rains don’t always help us, when our blue planet keeps warming and droughts dry the land. We have to look inside our heads not to towards the sky for help. The real solution lies partly in conferences like this one.

In 1798, economist Thomas Malthus both stated and mis-stated the issue: He said we can’t escape hardship because our population always outruns the food supply. We breed more than we can feed.

But today we have enough food for the world. Our population is outrunning the water supply.

The reason is simple. We used technology to make more food. But it’s very hard to make more water.

In fact, we’ve inadvertently used technology to make less water — at least surface water. Devices like the internal combustion engine have led to climate change, and cut our supply — even as world population has almost tripled since 1950.

But I believe we can use technology, and political and social programs, to help turn this trend around. We can help the over two billion people now living with water scarcity and secure a better future for ourselves.

If we have learned nothing else in the past two or three decades, it is that isolated innovation is not sustainable innovation; that unless innovation propagates, it can amount to little more than an illusion.

As academics and inventors, both our knowledge work and sustainability initiatives must have global footprints.

Here, then, is the challenge of 21st-century education: to globalize our knowledge, our thinking, our arguments, and our experience.

In the silos of the academy that must be updated, we must place as high a value on breadth as we do on the traditional depth and rigor of our disciplines. At our schools and universities, what we see now as institutional “turf” must be surrendered, transformed into a global public commons for the intellect and the spirit, and the spaces we thought we were giving away will come back to us richer by far.

Educators have to lead by example, looking at everything from how campus buildings are designed and operated to what students are being taught in classrooms and how innovation is being encouraged in laboratories. In addition to teaching students, educational institutions will play a crucial role in teaching the general public about new technologies and their role in society. The legitimacy accorded the academy affords educational institutions a special place in changing public perception about the need to accept new technologies as they become available.

So on behalf of NYIT’s 14,000 students and 92,000 alumni, as well as our faculty and staff worldwide, I am grateful to our distinguished experts for sharing their expertise today.

In 2008, NYIT held an International Water Conference at the United Nations. Then, as today, we gathered insightful authorities — including government officials, NGO leaders, academics, medical professionals, and members of leading technology companies — to discuss the global challenges.

Since then, progress has been made. For instance, the UN Millennium Development Goal of cutting by half the proportion of people who lack dependable access to improved drinking water has been achieved — three years ahead of the 2015 deadline. 

Here in China, you brought the Yellow River back to the sea again. And the South-North Water Transfer Project looks to address the imbalance of water, drawing water from southern rivers and supplying it to the dry north. When I look at it, I see the California Aqueduct on a massive scale.

I also see an update of one of your earlier triumphs. In the Grand Canal, water helps ship goods — and now you will ship the water itself. 

But a great global drama lies ahead. Here in China, the water supply has fallen 13% since 2000. That’s about as much each year as flows through the Mississippi delta in nine months. And because of groundwater use, or some may say overuse, the ground in California’s Central Valley, which supports about one-sixth of the nation’s irrigated land, has been sinking for decades. In other cases, seawater is invading the aquifers. I don’t have to tell you that these water mines are our safety nets. They are also a kind of commons, as in the well-known “tragedy of the commons,” but we must protect our shared resources and not allow the tragedy here. 

The remarkable growth of developing nations has made the need for water — especially clean water — all the more acute.

Poor water and bad sanitation don’t just cause diseases. They are diseases — of society. They bleed economies. For instance, each year, trachoma alone costs the world an estimated $3 to $5billion in lost productivity. When rates of river blindness reach 10%, African farmers often abandon fertile land. But when it’s under control and they come back, the economic rate of return improves by up to 18%. Good water pays for itself.

Since 2009, NYIT’s Center for Global Health organizes annual visits to Ghana, to explore new ways to bring fresh water to local villages as well as to provide health care and education. During one trip, NYIT faculty and students designed a potable water system that used solar power. They also designed a large roofing system that harvests rain, and it can collect between five hundred and one thousand gallons from even a small storm. The water is clean, so people are healthier. And this clean water improves the economy. Young girls in villages can now attend school and learn skills, as they no longer have to focus their days around fetching water. Because of such ripple effects, the World Health Organization estimates that for every dollar we invest in clean water, we get back up to eight.

President Kennedy once said that anyone who solved the problems of water would deserve a pair of Nobel Prizes: One for peace and one for science. And who knows, perhaps we can throw in another prize for literature for a Chinese writer?

We need new technologies for producing energy. Instead of using water for cooling and processing, we must turn to renewable, non-polluting sources like wind, solar, kinetic, small hydropower, and ocean. Better energy policy means better water policy. 

We need strong conservation and efficiency standards. For instance, you’re highly focused on the protection and distribution of water, and its management in general. At NYIT we are seeking to lead by example. We’re looking at everything from the design and operation of campus buildings to the curriculum in classrooms to the innovation in our labs.

We need to make world populations, especially in developed nations, aware of how much they affect water resources.

We need education, worldwide. It’s hard to solve a public problem if the public doesn’t really grasp it. At NYIT, we teach our students about water and related issues, and they go into the world able to help, and to explain new advances to co-workers and friends. We also spread information through our global system of campuses, such as here in China and in the Middle East. And we and all universities have a larger role. We are citadels of legitimacy. People trust us amid controversies, and through the media we can change public notions about the need to embrace new technologies.

We can also do it through conferences like this one.

Here today we will explore such critical questions as:

•  How well is the world succeeding in its efforts to provide safe water and wastewater services?

•  How can we provide enough water for crops without affecting other sectors?

•  How are we keeping people safer from water-borne disease?

•  What new technology can help nations meet their water challenges?

•  How do we plan for the future? How do we make sure we have enough water as our populations grow and our planet warms? 

At the start of this conference, I again posit that the solutions to the world's energy, climate and sustainability issues will be found in a 21st-century mix of:

1. science and technology

2. business and market economics

3. government and public policy

4. education

But the most important key will be:

5. the breakdown of traditional and last-century silos of thought and action...

Whether in the research arena or business sectors or even across national boundaries, in favor of forming integrated 21st-century approaches to solving our global problems. Not a United Nations or government approach. Not a Wall Street approach. Not a laboratory approach. But an approach that recognizes solutions in our century require collaboration and teams of people and clusters of ideas. Those of us here are capable of achieving just that.

It was Confucius - using neither the language of marketing nor the language of U.N. conferences, nor that of technological innovation, but the ancient language of moral philosophy - who wrote in The Doctrine of the Mean some 2,500 years ago that "equilibrium is the great root from which all human actions grow, and harmony is the universal path which all should pursue."

It was the poet W.H. Auden who wrote, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

Once again, welcome, and thank you for joining us. Let’s look ahead to our rich, exciting agenda. Together, let us continue to make a difference.

Thank you.


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