Melina Nicolaides


The story of Water is many things.
As water spirits, lake monsters, blessing rituals, mythic floods, and joyous festival celebrations with water-filled balloons, water is everywhere.
It is rain, rivers, waterfalls, not a faucet,
but an ice cube, the vapor of a rising morning mist. It is also waterways, watersheds, wastewater, over-fishing in seas, plastics in our oceans and contaminated marine organisms.

It is about child mortality rates, and the rights of tribal nations and indigenous peoples, the ‘First Peoples’, who were here before anyone.
Water is sanctifying for some, it is the five rivers of Hell to others, and it is from the sea that for some all inhabitants of the earth emerged.
And while physical bodies of water
connect areas and regions and transport peoples between them, these waterbodies also are used to divide nations and cities and populations.
Water is the Arctic, ground zero for climate change, it is rising oceans around island nations, and the sinking paradises of the Maldivian, Kiribati or Tuvalu peoples who must contemplate nation and citizenship without territory.
Water is the silent crisis of the oceans, acidifying and hindering normal growth of its fish and mammals.
It is also about the expanses of water that will become deserts, wells that will become holes and ditches, and neighborhood groundwater owned by companies thousands of miles away.
While Kenya's greatest ‘water tower’ has already dried up, California heads into yet another year of drought; it's about the state's mandatory consumption cutbacks and strict water regulations, but also about its empty water bottles which are shipped to India to landfills, and not ever recycled.
It is about the water of the Great Lakes being shipped to China, and bottled water labelled as sourced from a spring being nothing more than filtered tap water.
It is about urban populations getting their drinking water from water supplies so far away,
they are in different eco-systems.

While water is used in excess to grow our almonds and avocados year-round, it also refines petroleum,
and water is also hydroelectric power, creating new sources of energy.

But it is also about the different global standards for the water used in soft-drinks, and hence about the unacceptable amounts of DDT, Lindane and so many other toxic poisons.
It is about chlorine released by oil companies into the natural water supplies of the rainforest,
to counteract the pollutants of their activities,

It is about the isolated Gaza Strip, where only water with high salinity comes out of the drying wells and pesticide levels are 5 times the international standards.
The right to water is about the Principles of Water Democracy and about Water Justice,
and hence the trend of re-municipalizing water back to a public service - from Paris to Buenos Aires and ongoing citizen-initiated campaigns, Barcelona, Sofia, Tangiers, Nagpur, Marseille, Lyon, Jakarta;
It is also the vote by the EU Parliament on the first ever Citizens’ Initiative Right to Water to recognize the human right to water and sanitation in these countries.

Within the extreme global water access disparities, water is an issue of strength for financially-rich nations, it is an issue of survival for low-income nations, even if resource-rich.
Man who has controlled river flows, and water that has been canalled, dammed and diverted for centuries,
for so long in fact that its management became an Industry to the Romans,
with water scouts, water lawyers, and water engineers.

And today, water has been designated a matter of national security by Ministries and Defense Secretaries, Presidents and National Defense Councils.
Indeed, water is googling the words Bush and Paraguay.
After territory, and after oil, it has become this century’s new target for imperialist intentions,
21st century scarcity, strife, sacrifice and sovereignty.
And for all of these reasons and more, water has been the cause of thirst, disease, starvation, conflict, warfare, military control and terror. What will be future bring?
Water is everything.

Water is indeed everything. At least one of the multiple aspects of water is known to each of us first-hand. And many of these are well-known to those who are involved in water activism. Water activism is the engagement - of activists, scientists, environmentalists, non-profit organizations, concerned citizens and artists - with the countless water crises that exist around the globe. But for so many in the world, water struggle is a daily engagement - people and communities whose lives are directly affected by water or the lack of it; water scarcity due to drought or someone elses’ appropriation of it - or a dangerous overabundance of it due to floods or hurricanes.

The physical certainty of water is that it flows and is unaware of borders; so water should be one of those things that we as humans inherently share with one another. In the current state of our planet we can no longer afford to regard water as an exclusive commodity, as possession, or as demarcation of territory or as a military conquest. But sadly, the antithesis is our reality. In order to change this, in order to encourage collective action, we must all try and learn how to realize, appreciate, and then communicate our own personal experience of water.

Each of us ‘comes to water’ in a different way, and the journey to transforming water into something we all think and know about is a shared road. Although water is something that we all must have a physical connection to every day, for many of us, this contact might be different, just as may be the depth of awareness we have of our personal relationship to water.

The truth is that more often than not, when something is not a part of one’s consciousness or daily routine, or a essential part of one’s culture, it is difficult to understand or value fully. Where there is no situational knowledge, or no direct threat, the route to seeking more information about an issue is not always apparent. So despite today’s increasing debates over water - whether in reference to climate change, to water used as a weapon of war, or to water supply as a public vs a private water right - more likely than not, few people have thought of water as a privilege until they have lived a moment when it is no longer there anymore.

Through our first issue of ESSAYS ON WATER, we have seen that the current crises of water are not actually all that far away from any of us, and that access to water for drinking, for growing food, for sanitation, is not an issue relegated to the less fortunate countries of the world. The truth about water issues is that they touch more people in more places than we would imagine, and in places we would not expect, as evidenced recently by the Detroit water debacle that began last summer, the citizen-initiated referendum in Thessaloniki,  the Irish who went to the streets earlier this year, or Daesh’s ruthless strategy to control large areas by cutting off populations from their water supply. The extensive and varied global debates surrounding water are one more reminder of how we live in a connected world - interdependent and linked by the need for water justice and the affirmation of water as a right and as a common good that should belong to everyone.   

The contributors on the subject of water here at ACTIVATE - the writers from which we have heard, and from those that follow - not only understand their topic, but they have ‘come to water’ and embraced water in all of its multiplicities, in all of its reincarnations. They understand water not only from its basis in the sciences and its role in climate change debate, and from the paramount political contests going on for the waters of all the world; they understand water on its primal level, and they embody the pneuma of water too. They are above all humanists working and believing in a better world, with compassion and with sense of justice, and with the need to always seek the enforcement of the basic rights of humanity, including the tenets of water democracy. It is such qualities that can affect communities, engender relationships, activate empathy, and which are so critical to solving any of the world’s problems today.

Water-awareness or water literacy is one of those subjects that once discovered, once investigated, just draws one in. In whichever way one ‘comes to water’, it inevitably requires one to know more, as it is one of those magnetic issues of humans, of nature; and it can transform into a truly emotional cause too. We have seen through the WATER PROJECTS artworks, and through our essays, the researched path taken by those who have shared their vastly varied stories of coming to water, and the deeply felt commitment to the threat on nature's most important resource.

People come to the subject in different ways, but once there, it is the first step towards becoming an advocate both for the realities of water scarcity - and for those of water sanctity. In today's reality, the truth is that we eventually we will all ‘come to water’ as a recurring subject of concern; in different ways for sure, but even for those who are not quite there yet, there are at least in each one of us, memories or stories or immediate realities which reveal and explain our own personal relationship to and with water.

My own entry point into the subject and my awareness of water began at an early age, and there was no lack of contrast between the experiences and the memories surrounding it. Because of these experiences of constant comparison between the many dimensions of water within nature, it is an ongoing process of learning that I appreciate more with each passing year. Water’s existence or its absence was just something I was always aware of; and through water too, I became equally aware of who had it - and those who did not. 

Here are just a few condensed recollections of water..
My first memories of Asia, pre-monsoon showers which came just before what seemed like the downpour which would wash the world away, and people and structures became as one within this descending mass of water. In India, water issues presented themselves in a variety of ways.. from the large pot of water that was always boiling in the kitchen for us to drink (the soda moghuls of the USA hadn’t as yet arrived in the capacity of water-bottlers); sitting in large buckets of colored water for Holi merriment; water in the streets that others were using for daily chores was water far different from the clean cold/hot and fluoride-‘upgraded’ version that came effortlessly out of American faucets and showers for everyone all day, every day...
In Geneva, the Lehman lake and its landmark fountain in front of the house, that powered a jet of water 140 meters into the air nearly every day, a vision of hydropower; views of snow every winter, and water was the plentiful, flawlessly clean from the naturally filtered Swiss groundwater source...

Summers in Cyprus, especially in years that had seen very low rainfall, and before the dams of the island had been built, the sea was always there, but the landscape was yellow and dry; entire days with no running water from the faucets, and in that moment the municipality would turn the water back on, soon after midnight, all the washing machines of the neighborhood would suddenly spring into action...
Specific trips through the years come to mind, early 5am calls to get onto the water at Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary to watch indigenous and migratory water-birds as well as waterside birds, a lake habitat that was man-made in the mid 18th century, an earthen dam to protect the town from flooding.
Studying glacial landforms in the French Alps, and measuring glacier-retreat caused by already warming temperatures in Briançon; In Italy and beyond, the visible presence of ancient Rome’s water technology, engineering and vast hydraulic knowledge, with its ancient sewers, canals, public baths, and perfectly-preserved aqueducts; an ancient culture of water as spectacle, re-enacted sea battles, public celebrations and water as spectacle..

Whether our childhood memory is playing in a polluted river, waiting in line for a jar of water to carry home, a boat on the lake, or it is the brand new inflatable pool from the giant toy store down the road, we are all collectively bound in some way by a memory of water that we have from our years growing up. All of our life's encounters with water are defined by our identities - the culture we grew up in, the geography we lived in, or walks of life we came from. And hence, our understanding and appreciation of water as something vital to all of our planet’s natural life is shaped and recalled by these experiences.

How do we communicate about water and contribute to the discussion? We can all write about water in so many different ways as water plays a role in any discussion of our natural world and even more so with our changing climate and the direct effect it has on the planet's hydrological cycles.

Share a testimonial of a local, regional, global water-related issue. Do you have your own story about anything - from water shortage, flood, drought, birds in wetland habitats, the atmosphere, our oceans? Perhaps just explore one of the many inter-relations of humans with nature, human intervention in the natural world, or water as a symbolic, metaphorical, cultural or as an aesthetic expression.

Stories can be personal, anecdotal, passionate, even humorful. Artists could share their research process around water contamination - climate science - nature conservation etc. Scientists might have the chance to write personally and creatively; to tell a story from their work in the field, or share some intriguing and ‘accessible’ science. Environmentally-aware and concerned citizens might wish to share a personal or collaborative initiative that is related to a water issue.

Let us humanize water-related issues and bring more care and awareness - to each other and to the topic - for the future of our common waters. The survival of the Earth’s diverse ecosystems depend upon it.


please contribute your own stories about how you came to water

click here


ACTIVATE, Spring 2015