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LETTER | Water: Human-centric to planet-centric stakeholders

LETTER | Every time we talk about collaborations to mitigate the climate emergency, we think about human stakeholders. And this could be businesspeople, government leaders, representatives of civil society organisations and the media.

But haven’t we forgotten the most crucial stakeholder: the earth? Why have we not given any thought to non-human stakeholders? Why isn’t there a radical shift from human-centric to planet-centric stakeholders?

Recently, I was fortunate enough to listen to a TED talk by Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim. She calls for collaboration with indigenous folks and scientists because nomadic people and tribesmen live so close to nature that they can foretell if it’s going to rain just by observing ants.

It was mind-blowing and somewhat nostalgic as a friend’s family members come from the tradition of herbal medicine and yoga. These medicine men and women have the innate ability to walk into jungles in India, to the exact spot, where they find medicinal plants and herbs, which are then processed and dispensed as medicine to those who are in need.

While their knowledge and the reverence they pay to nature are something all of us can learn from, it is also very much in line with this year’s World Water Day theme of “Water for Peace.”

The only way to achieve this is if we, as humans, “live a mutually-enhancing life with earth and all lives” as advocated for by historian Thomas Berry in 1992.

So, the question here is this: can we explore ways to collaborate with our indigenous people so that we can learn from their wisdom about conservation and sustainability? And more importantly, do we have the political will to do so?

Shareholder capitalism has only destroyed this planet that we share because it is profit-driven and not people or planet-driven.

One of Span’s main focus is to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2034. And to do so, we need to shift to a regenerative economy. This means we need to prioritise our relationship with the most vital social and economic stakeholders: nature and all living beings.

This translates to forging collaborations that are sustainable where businesses are investing in natural resources like exploring ways to reforest and creating more wetlands and carbon sinks; where ideas such as regenerative agriculture are explored and innovated to improve water-efficiency use.

In short, this is really about radically shifting the way we do things: for example, on top of the existing initiatives to promote sustainable wastewater treatment, Span could explore the possibility of extracting nutrients from wastewater, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, essential elements that plants need to grow. This is again, a shift to the regenerative economy.

We can do this if we come together: if Span could collaborate with businesses, civil society organisations and the media to work closely with another crucial entrepreneurial stakeholder: the nature and her ecosystem services that are valued at US$100 trillion.

Therefore, as we mark this year’s World Water Day, let’s forge a non-human stakeholder relationship with Earth and nature. Let’s learn from our ancestors and indigenous people.

By doing so, we will be able to ensure water creates peace on earth and not conflict.


CHARLES SANTIAGO is the chairperson of the National Water Services Commission (Span).

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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