Mexican water expert: Education, management key tools to solving water crisis

Water scarcity is a real challenge facing many countries around the globe, and education may hold the key to preserving this crucial resource.

Water dripping from a tap (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Water dripping from a tap
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
As the threat of water scarcity becomes increasingly dominant in countries around the globe, public education about the resource will be the key instrument to its preservation in the years to come, an expert from both the Mexican and international water sector told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
“The tipping point could be tomorrow or in 12 months,” said Dr. David Korenfeld Federman, chairman of UNESCO’s International Hydrological Program, who has served high-level positions in the Mexican public service sector for the past 17 years.
“For me, to prepare the people on this matter – through education – will be a great opportunity,” he continued.
“That’s what I really want to do for the next months.”
Korenfeld Federman spoke in Tel Aviv, where he had flown from Mexico to receive an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University on Thursday, as well as attend the inauguration on Friday of a new university Water Research Center – an idea inspired by the Mexican Friends of Tel Aviv University.
For Federman, integrating the concept of water conservation into schools and households, and garnering an awareness toward the difference between “having or not having” this resource, is critical to national and global success.
“We should be ready quicker than we thought,” he said, stressing that those in power throughout the world must update their approach toward handling water scarcity.
While Korenfeld Federman has served as the chairman of the International Hydrological Program since 2014, he also was the director-general of the Mexican National Water Commission (Conagua) for the past two years until his resignation about four weeks ago. Prior to his position as director-general of Conagua, Korenfeld Federman served as water coordinator for the transition team of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in 2012.
From 2006 through 2011, he was the secretary of water and public works for the State of Mexico and from 2003 through 2006, he served as the municipal president of Huixquilucan, a town just west of Mexico City.
In addition to his post at the International Hydrological Program today, Federman remains a member of the board of governors of the World Water Council, a position he has held since 2009.
He is also an active member of the Mexican Jewish community and is pursuing a second doctoral degree in water sciences, though he already holds one in public administration.
Both the receipt of his honorary doctorate and the launch of the new water research center are occurring as part of the weeklong Tel Aviv University 2015 Board of Governors meeting.
“It’s a great honor to receive an honorary doctorate from one of the most important universities in Israel,” he said.
As far as the new Tel Aviv University water research center is concerned, Korenfeld Federman said he and his colleagues in the Mexican Friends of Tel Aviv University stressed the importance of the creation of such a center during the visit of former president Shimon Peres to Mexico in 2013. Following the visit, the Mexican Friends of Tel Aviv University raised some initial funding for the project and helped generate its vision, he explained.
The center will not belong to a particular faculty and will instead have a multidisciplinary structure, a spokeswoman for the university said. While the initial funding came from individuals and organizations in Mexico, the center will later on be funded by other entities, and its activities will be held in cooperation with organizations, institutions and industry all over the world, the spokeswoman added.
Korenfeld Federman expressed hopes that the center would become “an international think tank that could bring specialists from around the world to develop here a ‘tailor suit’ for each place in the world.”
“For water solutions, you need to be a tailor, because every part of the world has its own specific things,” he said.
Looking at the global water scarcity problems as a whole, Korenfeld Federman said that the problems do not rest upon simply water quantity or quality, but rather on water management as well. When putting together a research center to tackle such issues, he emphasized that all of the cultural, social and economic issues associated with combating water scarcity must be taken into account, with a multidisciplinary, academic approach rather than a political one.
Researchers can determine solutions based on their academic expertise, and then decision-makers can decide if they want to apply these tools to their policies, according to Korenfeld Federman.
While he does not yet know whether he will be actively involved in the center as its operations unfold, Korenfeld Federman said he finds a great importance in participating, both “as a specialist in water for many years and also as a member of the Mexican Jewish community.”
“I think this center can help in the five continents of the world,” he said.
In addition to the ceremonies at Tel Aviv University, Korenfeld Federman met with President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday and will meet with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Saturday night, as well as attend a Jerusalem Day ceremony in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is speaking at the capital’s Ammunition Hill on Sunday.
As far as solving the world’s water problems is concerned, and both Israel and Mexico’s potential contributions to this lofty task, Korenfeld Federman stressed that the two in many ways are suitable fit for cooperation.
“Israel has developed very strategic plans in terms of agriculture, in terms of efficient use of water, which can be exemplified not only in Mexico but in the region,” he said, pointing specifically to Israeli irrigation systems.
“Israeli technology has been used in Mexico for a long time.”
Meanwhile, Mexico’s geographical latitude places it in line with “the great deserts of the world,” making it a country with severe drought conditions, he continued. Such conditions necessitate following the example of other countries such as Israel who also cope with drought conditions, Korenfeld Federman said. This year is expected to an El Niño year, which will mean strong cyclones in some areas but droughts in others, he added.
Ultimately, he explained, Israel has advanced public policies and technological modes for managing water resources, while Mexico has a great heritage of water use in its ancient practices of working the land.
“I think there’s a great opportunity to combine both, because the security of alimentation is one of the most important goals, and you can only do this with something very special,” Korenfeld Federman said.