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Cornell faculty to confer on troubled waters in Greece

Respecting local culture while finding ways to combat water-scarcity problems in the Mediterranean will be the goal of two Cornell faculty members meeting with government leaders, activists and other academics in Greece this summer.

As a spinoff of the Cornell course Water and Culture in the Mediterranean: A Crisis?, Gail Holst-Warhaft, director of the Institute for European Studies' Mediterranean Initiative, and Tammo Steenhuis, professor of biological and environmental engineering, will travel to Greece, June 9-15, to share insights on how to end a growing water crisis in that region.

"We are trying to see this as a complicated cultural, technical and environmental problem," Holst-Warhaft said.

Holst-Warhaft, Steenhuis and Keith Porter, Cornell Law School lecturer and former director of the New York State Water Resources Institute, co-teach the graduate-level course. A blend of engineering, sociology and law, it looks at how watershed problems, pollution and management issues have created widespread water scarcity in Greece, northern Africa, Egypt and other areas around the Mediterranean Sea.

"We have been examining water issues not just in a legal or engineering sense, but in a cultural sense," Porter explained. "The challenge the Mediterranean region faces is equivalent to a set of problems we really have not very successfully dealt with heretofore."

Each country in the region has a slightly different water problem, stemming from such problems as pollution, increased demand, climate change and drought, Holst-Warhaft explained. Greece, for example, has a growing tourism industry, which requires large amounts of water. Its agricultural needs, particularly in commercially grown citrus fruits, also contribute to the problem.

During the trip, Holst-Warhaft and Steenhuis will be joined by graduate student and Fulbright scholar Itir Begen, who took the course this past spring.

They will arrive in Athens and spend a day in Neapolis, Crete, where the mayor will guide them through drought-affected regions. The group also plans to visit Oinofyta, where industrial pollution of the river is a major problem. The trip will include a roundtable in Argos and a meeting in Athens with foreign delegates and representatives of the Greek Ministry of Agriculture, as well as Israeli, Italian and Turkish water specialists.

The trip will end with a concert by Greek singer Mariza Koch and other musicians, who will perform traditional Greek songs about water.

"We are using Greece as a centerpiece to look at Mediterranean water problems and how they're related to local culture," Holst-Warhaft said.

The trip is co-sponsored by the Agricultural University of Athens, the Greek Ministry of Tourism, the Athens Planetarium and Cornell's Institute for European Studies.

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