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Working to keep water clean and plentiful in Greece, CU faculty reach out to international partners

A promising international partnership for solving water shortages halfway around the world was strengthened this summer by two Cornell faculty members who traveled to Greece to help raise awareness of the issue.

Gail Holst-Warhaft, director of the Cornell Institute for European Studies' Mediterranean Initiative, and Tammo Steenhuis, professor of biological and environmental engineering, visited various parts of Greece, including the island of Crete, June 9-15. The group met with Greek municipality leaders as well as delegates from as far away as Italy and Israel to talk about necessary cultural changes for solving water problems that have plagued the region for decades.

"Everywhere we went, the issue was largely political and social, rather than a matter of scarcity -- although there is scarcity," Holst-Warhaft said.

Among their activities was a visit to the town of Nafplion in southern Greece, known for its citrus industry. Holst-Warhaft, Steenhuis and various Greek water engineers urged political leaders there to stop the illegal well-drilling that has caused pollution of the region's drinking water for the last decade.

The trip was the second in a series of international conferences on water that Holst-Warhaft and Steenhuis helped develop; in 2007, the meetings were held in Cairo, Egypt. This year, each conference was capped by an evening concert that filled the streets and church squares. Holst-Warhaft's friend, Greek singer Mariza Koch, recruited local choirs of children to sing traditional songs about water to entertain conference-goers, but also to further emphasize the importance of raising public awareness of the water problems.

Holst-Warhaft and Steenhuis co-teach the graduate-level course, Water in the Mediterranean: A Crisis? along with Cornell Law School lecturer Keith Porter. The course will be offered for the third time this spring, and Holst-Warhaft said they hope to involve students in water projects in the Mediterranean basin, possibly by sending them to Greece as volunteers. They also envision expanding the project to involve all the countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea, including parts of North Africa and the Middle East.

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