Water and Culture: Intro

I have a very particular interest in the ties between water and culture. Specifically, the cultural values and traditions related to water and how they vary around the world based on changes in country, religion, economy, political tensions, and environmental conditions. These ties can be of extreme importance for ensuring sustainability in any interventions made in the water sector.

As demands on water resources, water and sanitation services, and drinking water supplies increase, so too does the demand on sustainability in the water sector. This in turn places a demand on the need to understand the cultural context.

Water is a commodity unlike most others because it is required by every living thing on the planet and it crosses both national borders and many sectors of society including economic, environmental, cultural, and religious sectors. Because of this, creativity and understanding is needed to adequately and sustainably address different types of water (e.g., rain water, surface water, groundwater), different uses of water (e.g., industrial, agricultural, personal), and different values placed on water [1]. For example, religions may ban the use of certain types of water, different agricultural practices may exist because of specific traditions, water infrastructure and services may be constrained by certain beliefs, and the adoption and continued use of water innovation and water management systems may be entirely reliant on a community’s involvement [1,2]

A holistic approach is needed to balance competing demands from different areas of society. In practice, however, the cultural dimension and social constructs around water are rarely combined with the materialistic and technological needs [2,3]. This interconnectedness of water and culture, and the variability in the cultural value of water across the world, needs to be considered.

This series will highlight the many different connections between water and culture in an effort to raise awareness about this particular topic.

Cover photo taken on Koh Rong Samloem

[1] Wehn, U.; Montalvo, C. Exploring the Dynamics of Water Innovation: Foundations for Water Innovation Studies. J. Clean. Prod. 2018, 171, S1–S19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.10.118.

[2] Schelwald-van der Kley, L.; Reijerkerk, L. Water: A Way of Life. Sustainable Water Management in a Cultural Context; Taylor & Francis Group: London, UK, 2009.

[3] Orlove, B.; Caton, S. C. Water Sustainability: Anthropological Approaches and Prospects. Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 2010, 39, 401–415. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.anthro.012809.105045.

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