Alexandra Cousteau studies new sinkholes, which occur because of falling water levels, at the Dead Sea in Israel. From the Ganges River, the spiritual heart of India, to the Mississippi River in America, legendary marine scientist and explorer Jacques Cousteau’s granddaughter is collecting stories about water. She’s not reporting on new technologies that promise to save the world, or on politics, or the regular environmental doom and gloom.
Thirty-two-year old Alexandra Cousteau, whose grandfather taught her to scuba dive at age seven — connecting her to water forever — seeks to re-connect all people throughout the world to water, our life support system.
At the end of last month, as part of her 100-day, five-continent journey ‘Expedition: Blue Planet’, she landed in Israel. “We started in India looking at water, faith and spirituality,” she says. In Israel, she and her crew are investigating how water scarcity “can lead to diplomacy and not necessarily conflict.”
In Israel, she collected stories from housewives and farmers to spread to the global community through her blog and video news feeds. As part of her trip, she also met with Jordanians and Palestinians from the West Bank.
In total she interviewed about 10 different people from the region, “collecting archetypal stories that represent water stories facing the global community,” Cousteau, a dedicated environmentalist tells ISRAEL21c. The stories and videos are now posted on her website.
Time to put water under the bridge
Water is the one thing that connects every individual on this planet of seven billion people, explains Cousteau, since the impacts of climate change will be felt most seriously on this essential natural resource. “Everyone will need to be involved in implementing solutions,” she says.
Filming on the road, and uploading videos and news feeds to her site, Cousteau expects the material will be visited by a wide audience, including journalists and young change makers.
Among the collection, are the stories of people — normal, every day people — that she met in Israel. As part of her trip, she visited and surveyed the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, the Hula valley wetlands, and the Jordan River; in Jerusalem she met Israeli water officials and toured the Old City. Not far away in the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank, Cousteau met with officials there to discuss water allocations under the Oslo Accords.
Her visit in Israel and the region, adds to the hopeful things she’s seen in other parts of the planet, says Cousteau by telephone. “It’s been hopeful to talk with people from around the world about water issues. Water is life, and wherever I go, all of the people all say the same three words.
“Water is life,” she repeats. Whether it’s spiritual leader in Africa, housewives and farmers in Israel, Jordan and the Palestine Authority, Saudis, or activists in Turkey. All people say the same thing, “And that’s been amazing,” she says.
For Israel specifically, “water is a means for peace,” she says.
Israel, or other Middle Eastern countries, needn’t politicise the water issue, she believes. Water is a basic human right that everybody needs to survive: “We are not here to talk politics with people,” she explains.
Hosted by a green Israeli peace-making school
When asked about specific regional environmental concerns, Cousteau didn’t delve into specifics. These are issues that people know about anyway, like the problems with the shrinking Dead Sea, she says. Her mission rather, was as a story collector, to speak with average people in Israel about what water means to their lives. “We didn’t get too deep,” Cousteau says humbly.
In Israel, the Arava Institute, an environmental education group, helped Cousteau and her crew identify which people to interview. Finding the organization through a journalist friend of hers, the Arava Institute kept the team focused, she says.
After arriving from South Africa, she enters a fresh entry in her blog: “The reason we’re at Kibbutz Ketura is to visit the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, a remarkable non-profit organization who makes its home here,” she writes.
“Arava brings Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians together with students from around the world to study environmental issues. However, their not-so-subtle agenda is not just a sustainable future for natural resources, but also cooperation between the peoples of this conflict-ridden region.
“As such, they compliment rigorous academic coursework with a special one-year mandatory class on peace and leadership skills, in which they confront issues such as religion, stereotypes, and the historical narratives of each group head-on. Their motto is: “Nature knows no borders.” We are curious to explore their model for how water scarcity can serve not as a necessary cause of conflict, but rather as a vehicle for peace,” she writes.
In awe over the dropping water levels in the Dead Sea, and the small size of the Sea of Galilee, Cousteau was impressed that neighbouring Jordan has a national water day. “All these things are contributing to creating wonderful stories,” she says. “There are lessons here that people should know about.”
The stories collected will be useful for “young people who want to work across political and cultural divides. It’s powerful stuff,” she adds.
While her legendary marine explorer grandfather started his career at the Red Sea, which is bordered by Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern and African countries, she has no specific recollection of him traveling to or having ties with Israel. “He was working in a different time,” it was about “exploration and discovery” and later in the end, she says, he started to get into marine conservation.
“This generation that I am part of has to move past awareness, and has to be proactive and be part of the solution,” urges Cousteau. “Now that we know [water’s] there, we have to protect it and prevent it from disappearing.”