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Water Management

U.S. Fulbright

From Flooding to Drought to the White House: A Disaster-Filled Journey

August 3, 2016
Ryan Alaniz

Ryan Alaniz, 2009-2010, Honduras attending the 2016 White House Water Summit

Like disasters, life is far from predictable. In 2009, during my Fulbright U.S. Student grant, I was living in a resettlement outside of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, populated by people who had been displaced by severe flooding from Hurricane Mitch (1998). Now, where I live in California, which faces the worst drought in 1,200 years, we are wrestling with too little water. My research on the social implications of drought builds on what I learned in the impoverished re-settlements of Honduras, and has led to recognition by the White House.

My invitation to submit a policy brief on drought, and a subsequent invitation to the White House Water Summit, came as a surprise. Hundreds of water/drought academics and organizers are conducting excellent research and implementing creative programs to address water scarcity concerns throughout the nation. Why would they choose me?

When I posed this question to my contact at the National Security Council, he expressed his admiration that I had hosted the Disaster by Drought Summit, co-sponsored by California Polytechnic State University, the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU),  and MunichRe Foundation. For a week, UNU affiliated scholars from around the world came to California to discuss the drought with counterparts from the Western United States. Participants listened to lectures from engineers and architects, businesses and non-profit organizations, farm owners and laborers, and also visit a local vineyard to see the impact of drought. Not only were new collaborations formed, we also produced a policy brief for the White House and the California State legislature.

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