so much water, so little water

71% of the Earth's surface is water.  96.5% of that water is saline and found in seas and oceans generating Earth's moniker 'The Blue Planet.' A further 0.9% of water (from ground water sources for example) is also saline. Of the 2.5% of the Earth's water that is freshwater, 69% of that is frozen in glaciers and ice caps, 30% of that is groundwater, and 1.2% is at the surface. Of the water that is at the surface or elsewhere (bodies of living things 0.26%, atmosphere 3%) 69 % is inaccessible as ground ice and permafrost, 2.6% is contained in swamps and marshes, while 20.9% is available in lakes and 0.49% is available to us in rivers (USGS). After a series of mind boggling calculations the figures show that 0.75% of  the world's water is in ground water. Groundwater, replenished by precipitation, extracts naturally into springs, rivers, and lakes. Artificial extraction, through wells, requires more complex means to access and as such, we continue to depend on river and lake sources. As a result of drought and over withdrawal 21/37 of the world's largest aquifers "have past their sustainability tipping points"; more water is being removed than replaced (Frankel 2015).
Surface/other water accounts for 0.03% of the world's water, of which 21.39% is available in lakes and rivers, making 0.000077004% of the world's water available to supply 80% of human water needs; the remaining 20% comes from groundwater sources (Columbia Water Centre).
This visual iterates these facts around the Earth's water.
The freshwater we are so dependent on is used for three major purposes: industry, domestic purposes, and irrigation. Worldwide 70% of freshwater withdrawal is used in agriculture irrigation practices (FAO, AQUASTAT). IFAD lead technical specialist in water and rural infrastructure Mawira Chitima notes that there is increased competition locally and globally for water worldwide and that "there is a general shortage of freshwater." We "need better water efficiency, better water conservation methods, better catchment management and the promotion of technologies that improve water use efficiency"  (n.a. 2015"'Water is critical to development' says IFAD expert." 21 August 2015).

Increasing populations, increasing urbanization, increasing consumerism, lead to increasing need and use of environmental resources such as water. Growing demands from increased manufacturing, electricity generation, domestic use, agricultural use  are taxing water sources (UN World Water Development Report 2015 "Water for a Sustainable World"

Despotic Hydraulic Civilizations

The essence of irrigation is not land, nor is it really water--it is resource management.
 (Fleuret 1985:116)

Karl Wittfogel (1896-1988) was a former Marxist, turned staunch communist, turned anti-communist (particularly Maoist and Leninist iterations of the ideology) historian. He left Germany for the USA by way of England in the mid-1930s. Wittfogel is best known for his book Oriental Despotism: a comparative study of total power (1957) which argued for the existence of 'hydraulic civilizations.'

Hydraulic civilizations were societies whose agricultural enterprises were dependent on large scale irrigation that in turn required substantial centralized control. Elaborate management and control was needed to operate the system. This eventually led to a monopoly of absolute power which dominated the economy in a complicated, despotic network of bureaucracy. Additional characteristics of these societies include: use of mass labour, organizational hierarchy, impersonal government, the development of towns, the specialization of jobs, and the development of class systems.The system was described as 'Oriental.' Wittfogel's use of the term Oriental is in the European manner that refers to that which is not of the Occident (the West, Europe). Wittfogel gave examples hydraulic civilizations in China, Egypt, India, Mesopotamia, pre-Colombian Mexico and Peru.

Though archaic, as far as the lifespan of academic literature goes, and highly critiqued, Wittfogel is an interlocutor and canonical for  many in the social sciences writing on irrigation, particularly anthropology, where "the relationship between irrigation and society is a classic anthropological concern" (Fleuret 1985:103). Gelles observes that despite critiques to Wittfogel's hydraulic hypothesis or Oriental despotism, "an emphatically objectivist bias continues to guide scholarly and applied research on irrigation and other forms of common property management" (Gelles 2002:7).  This statement is almost correct; to adhere to some sort of method is part of the scientific method that social science has modeled itself on, yet with quasi-mandatory reflexivity, and the legitimization of academic activists and engaged academia, and the spur to various forms of social media, in recent times that objectivism has become somewhat less objective.

Fleuret, Patrick. 1985. “The Social Organization of Water Control in the Taita Hills, Kenya” American Ethnologist 12(1):103-118.

Gelles, Paul H. 2000. Water and Power in Highland Peru: The Cultural Politics of Irrigation and Development. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Wittfogel, Karl. 1957. Oriental Despotism: a comparative study of total power.New Haven CT: Yale University Press.


Amauta is a Quecha word that means master or wise. The Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC) is a research unit at York University, there are others, follow this link. In July we hosted the first annual summer program for Young Amautas, high school students, in an intense and fun week of learning about the region's geography, history, culture....  The kids are delightful and the program is inspirational. Have a look at the FaceBook page. I had been keen to talk about music or agriculture but Abu, our incredible coordinator, wanted me to do the introduction -- no small task! It was great fun, we all learned something and it set the stage for progressively getting more and more knowledge and it has me itching to explore more of the region! Master Class indeed!

Yaneca Esquina, Sacred Secrets, 2000 (detail). Acrylic, enamel, and mirrors on canvas and wood, 119 x 94 cm. Photo: Guillermo Guevara, reproduced from Monica Kupfer ed., V Bienal de Arte de Panamá 2000 (Panama: Cervecería Nacional, 2000), p. 35

where in the world?

One of the neat things about blogging is the stats section -- it provides data on how many people are looking at posts and where those viewers are coming from. One of the neat things is to see that there seems to be quite a few people interested in these topics that come from Russia and Ukraine. I've never visited either of these spots, nor do I have acquaintances there. Nevertheless, I do know there is some pretty substantial rice production in these areas. So, I'm curious, where in the world are you from & what's your interest in rice production? Feel free to comment here or connect with me via email. Looking forward to learning about you!

screenshot of this week's visitors locations

Soggy Bread, Firm Friends

After our session on the Guiana Basin at the Canadian Association of Geographers' annual meeting had ended, a few of us went for drinks. These things are  about networking after all, and as G said, these are the people we want to network with. Not only did we have lots to talk about but we realized we were interested in exploring 'nature' in the Vancouver area and as a bonus we genuinely got along. So we skipped the last day of the conference and six of us (five presenters + one guest) went on a day long hike up to the top of Bowen Island, a twenty minute ferry ride away from the mainland. It was brilliant, sunny, convivial, fun. The earth was soft, the cedars perfumed the air, the path steep. A perfect outing. The next day the group was smaller (three presenters + one guest, not the same person from the Island walk), people had started returning home. We set out to ski the glacier at Whistler. Laziness, soreness from the day before, a longer drive, a pricey outing led us to change our minds in Squamish, where we had stopped for breakfast and picnic supplies. At the local farmers' market T bought a lovely aqua coloured handmade soap from one of the many artisanal soap vendors and we picked up some lovely, lovely tasty looking baguettes.

At the tourism station we decided to make it a lazy day by renting two canoes to float down the river, picnic, and do a little paddling.  After not reading but signing release forms (me, maybe the others did!), the workers started packing the gear. At the last moment we decided that one canoe could fit three people (our team consisted of two women, 164 cm, 176 cm and two men 187 cm and 194 cm) and we would take a kayak instead of the other canoe. The plan was that we would take turns in the kayak, to mix things up. Growing up in southern Ontario, enjoying a bit of nature, canoeing for a couple of hours is pretty tame, should be relatively fine, I'm no guide but capable. Everyone said they'd done a bit before so I felt relaxed about plan. I also planned to teach them "The Canoe Song" that even the BC guys didn't know. It would be beautiful to hear the Belge and Dutch singing one of my favorite tunes while dip dipping and singing. Spirits were high when we arrived at the river. I asked the tourism guy if he had a Ziploc bag for my phone. He didn't. Nor did we have any other waterproof gear. He was confident that splashes could be dealt with, I less so but oddly ambivilant. He did tell us the river was flowing at a sprint pace at the edges. That means that at the centre itss faster than a sprint (Usain Bolt sprints at 44 km/hour). He also said there were many tree hazards in the water, to be on the lookout.

The river looking washed out and gentle.

It was a hot day and I thought it would be nice to take a dip. As soon as we arrived with our gear to the river I could see from the bright blue colour that it was glacial fed and putting my hand in at the edge, I changed my mind about swimming. After a couple photos, moisturizing, and drinks we were ready. G was the first to go off in the kayak, I had him demonstrate how he planned to hold the paddle and it was correct, so I felt confident he would be okay and the rest of us hopped into the canoe and pulled off, low in the water. The water was fast, the view tremendous, the company excellent. After about fifteen minutes of admiring the mountains, clear sky, lush trees, fresh water, and making comments about Gs paddling, we noticed that G was pumping water out of the kayak. It was comical to see the force with which he was pumping the stream of water that never ended. He'd pause, grin and start pumping again and we were cracking up. T was almost hysterical which made A and I laugh even more. It was the never ending pumping and then, somehow, suddenly, G capsized. The kayak was upturned, G went down and then came up again. The laughing ended. He was at least twenty metres away, his paddle and his pump were floating down stream and I knew that water was cold. It was imperative we get him out of the water. He was yelling at us to get the paddle. We needed it to get that little boat moving. I was in the bow, A (the 176 cm female) in the middle and at the T (the 187 cm guy) back. I reached for his paddle with my paddle. It was too far away. Then I'm not quite sure what happened, it was quick, and we capsized. I went under.

The water was colder than I expected. I thanked God when my head broke the surface, that I was wearing my life vest. I marveled that the life vest worked and I gasped for breath. That was the first time I fell out of a boat and the only thing I knew I should do was hang on to the boat. Then I worried about my phone. And groaned internally, "not another life threatening adventure, I thought I was done with these." Then I heard a voice say, "don't panic, we're going to be okay" (it wasn't God! it was G). "Get the back packs" I had one and looped it on my arm, the left arm holding the boat. And we tried to swim the gear to the upcoming shoal. The water was moving so quickly, the gear so complicated, that it looked like we wouldn't make the gravel bank. The only person I could see was G right in front of me holding onto the boat as well. A couple of times someone said "let go of the boats" and "no, hold on." When it looked like we were going to abandon ourselves to the river, to float down to the next gravel bank, I came to my senses and knew that it was too dangerous to do that. The water was too cold (6/7 C), too fast, we didn't know when the next opportunity would come. I hollered "we can make it, kick" and I started kicking toward the shore. Everyone was motivated and we started moving more quickly than the river. At that point I started to feel comfortable in the river. To feel warm. Then G (at 194 cm) said "I can feel the bottom." I laughed, and said "I can't feel the bottom," then T shouted "I feel the bottom" and pretty soon I too felt the river pebbles under my sneakers. We tumbled ashore, pulled the gear out of the water and fell into each other's arms, hugs all around, thankful to be together, safe, out of the water. Alive.

The water was about 6-7 C and it's difficult to say how long, we were in.  We guess around 6-10 minutes. In water between 4.5-10 C wearing no protective clothing, loss of dexterity happens under 5 minutes, exhaustion sets in 30-60 minutes and best rate survival times are 1-3 hours. I started to feel warm before we left the river, which is dangerous. I don't have a lot of body fat and I'm quite a bit smaller than the others so it would make sense that I would react first. This site has a great description of the physical response to and effects of cold water on people:

After removing some clothing (of all days to be wearing the rusty drawers with the lace that my toes can fit though!), emptying things of water, having some chocolates, lamenting soggy bread, and tidying things up, we decided to press on. To take things slowly, carefully. To go to the next gravel bank and reassess the situation. T swapped with G and took the kayak. I was in the front, navigating, the two behind me paddling. We were good. We three in the boat were worried about T because at this point he was using a canoe paddle instead of the kayak one (that had drifted away with one of G's flip flops) to navigate the tricky currents. Tough work indeed. He landed at the spit like a boss. Full of enthusiasm, proclaiming, "it's actually fun."          

Mindful of the power of the river and the potential of danger the rest of the journey was slow and careful. We ended our trip at the sand bank where the river split, the spot that we had originally intended to have our artisanal picnic. It took us longer than intended to get there. As was to be expected. We were in good spirits. A & T went looking for someone to call the guy to come and get us, our phones had all drowned, while G and I went looking for the flip flop or oar. Neither manifested.   Meeting up again with the guys from the tourism place they were relieved that we were alive. Really relieved. He kept going on about this was the first (and surely last) time they let a group down the river without a guide, and how we insisted (first I heard of it) and that this had never happened.

Reflecting on the purpose of this adventure, I have to see purpose in everything, was difficult. Is difficult. It's probably the reason why it's taken me so long to write this post. I could say it was about taking nature seriously, to not be so cavalier. I know I didn't know what I was doing. BC's glacier rivers are not like southern Ontario's runoff rivers. I misjudged. T would be off on some long hiking trips in the coming weeks, perhaps it was a reminder to him.  You can't come close to death and not come out bonded to each other in some way -- even if we never see each other again we'll always be friends. Perhaps that bond has some future purpose. Maybe it was about non-attachment to material things (phones and their contents). Maybe it was a reminder to regularly back up our data (this was the second loss of the year for me, the first was climbing Cotopaxi). Maybe it was to burn off some negative karma from a past life. G suggested it was about ego -- that we couldn't let ourselves be conquered. We cooperated beautifully -- no one panicked, no one decided to boss the others around, no one was grumpy -- we made decisions together easily, comfortably. I suspect it may be about decision making. Maybe even about trusting or depending on people. At that point when it was becoming difficult and we wanted to give up -- to let the boat go, to not try to get to the shoal, to take a risk to reach another place -- but we decided not to. Melodramatic as I feel saying it, we decided to survive. Maybe, the purpose is to learn to make decisions. Not to take risks. To trust ourselves and to trust others. Or maybe, as my mother suggested, we were saved because we have some purpose to fulfill. Who knows? Speculation over!

Conferencing: Anthropogenic Waterways and Nationalism in Guyana, South America

I rarely present at conferences, not because I'm shy nor because I'm completely lazy. It's generally because I see conferences as a networking space. It can definitely be fun, but I find it's not fun to present one's work to people who don't share similar geographic or theoretical concerns and understandings. In June 2015 I had the opportunity to present at the Canadian Association of Geographer's annual meeting. I was invited to present a session that became three panels,  Assessing the Situation of the Peoples and Ecosystems of the Guiana Shield. Fifteen presenters were scheduled to speak, unfortunately five cancelled and one video-ed in. My paper, "Anthropogenic Waterways and Nationalism in Guyana, South America," was the only piece on urban issues. Nevertheless, it was interesting to hear about research in Suriname, the forests of Guyana and on the Rupunui.

When I submitted this abstract in February 2015, it was only a suspicion of what was happening in Guyana. Immediately after President Granger took office on May 16, 2015, Georgetown was rallied to clean up the city. It's pretty exciting to see ideas manifest in reality but what this means for me is more research to fully think about this issue and hopefully work it into a proper paper in the near future. In the meantime, this is the abstract of my paper. If you'd like the PowerPoint or paper, or you'd like to chat, feel free to contact me.

Anthropogenic Waterways and Nationalism in Guyana, South America
Aruna Panday
York University

Guyana’s coastal landscape is deeply anthropogenic, rife with multifarious water control systems: drainage and irrigation canals, dykes and kokers, water conservancies, runoff trenches, re-introduced mangrove forests, and the seawall defense system. This paper does two things, first inspired by Hugh Raffles’ In Amazonia (2002), it examines the ways in which this manipulation and transformation of nature in the making of these water management systems, transforms people’s lives. Guyana is facing a major rubbish removal crisis. Weeds block trenches and plastic garbage clogs up kokers and mangroves, contributing to flooding. In the Atlantic, rubbish creates sea-scouring action damaging sea defenses. The facilities and infrastructure for waste disposal are in desperate need of improvement and regular maintenance. Billboards sponsored by various state agencies proclaim ‘Littering is a crime, let’s keep Guyana clean,’ promoting the ‘Keep Guyana Clean’ campaign, and garbage removal strategies are one of the major campaign concerns for the 2015 elections. Accordingly, the second concern of this paper then draws on Arun Agrawal’s “Environmentality,” that is the “governmentalization of the environment” (2005:11) as processes, related institutions, practices and subjectivities that (re)shape the environment, to analyze the ways people speak formally and informally about the environment, waste management, and discourses of Guyanese nationalism.

When will you be done? What will you do?

When people learn I'm in a doctoral program the responses are pretty standard, and have become so that I know by the response what kind of person I'm dealing with. Or vice versa. They are:
  •  Looks of bewilderment, as though seeing a strange and perhaps perplexing rather large insect.
  •  The verbalization of above, into something like, "o god, what are you doing to do with that"
  •  Detailed tales of how the person (if they have post Bachelor qualifications) had thought of or are planning on doing a doctorate.
  • Those that are pleased and think it's great.
Almost the moment I began doctoral studies people would ask me, "when will you be done." I would like to say, "I just began, leave me alone" or "who cares" "what difference will it make to you" and now, "jeez, let's not talk about this shall we." I'm more polite than inside my head (mostly) so I explain that in our department the average completion time seems to be about eight years. They often express surprise, to which I respond, "it's a doctorate, it's a lot of work."

They sometimes still seem confused and probably have inner monologues something like, "that girls is nuts" "why would you want to be in school so long" "what exactly is this doctorate." Sometimes I go even further and explain, that each department is different, and different disciplines have different expectations thereby having different completion rates.  I never talk about the problems in our department that has so many people behind schedule (I don't understand them myself). I rarely, explain that in Canada and the US we have coursework expectations (actual classes, yes, that take at least one year as well as a series of examinations known as the "comps" that take at least another year) whereas in the UK they skip this stage, going straight into developing proposals, conducting research and writing out a dissertation. As well, in anthropology, unlike other disciplines,  we are expected to spend at least one full year in the fieldwork site gathering data and information.  Taking more time. And the length of the dissertation varies, from discipline to schools -- my anthropology dissertation should be between 400-500 pages whereas a colleague of mine completed their PhD in biology with a paper of 120 pages and that included diagrams and references (my MA without references or appendences came to 140, which is normal).

The other question I usually get, or as a follow up to the first question or from other doctoral students (and I'm not sure if it's because they are interested, or making small talk, or confused) is:
  • What will you do when you're done?
  • What kind of job will you get?

My inner monologue says, "who cares" "what business is it of yours" "I'm not going to tell you 'cause then you may evil eye me or somehow be competition for my plan" "I haven't got a job offer as yet so I can't really tell you." My polite outer speech says, "O, there are lots of options for a person with a doctorate degree. It really depends on what you're studying. For example..." and I go on to give some random examples of PhDs working outside of academia.Most of the time I really don't have answers for people; I'm not a fortune teller. Or, sometimes I don't want to talk about things that are as yet unformed, jelly-like.