GV exhibit discusses water crises in Flint and El Salvador

courtesy / gvsu.edu

courtesy / gvsu.edu

Arie Nienhuis

Since the dawn of civilization, humans have had to continuously improve the way we access, supply and sanitize water. Today, between the crisis in Flint, the disproportionate control of water resources in Africa and lack of proper sanitation in developing countries like Ghana and Nepal, it’s clear that this remains a challenge for humans today. In an effort to garner more attention, support and solutions, Grand Valley State University is currently hosting an exhibit which addresses these issues.

“Water: Human Right or Commodity?” is an exhibit organized by GVSU social work professors Steven Smith and Mirta Paola Leon with the help of graduate students Lainah Hanson and Summer Mendez, all of whom believe water to be a core human right. Working together as a group led them to create a cohesive and poignant comparison of the water crises in Flint and El Salvador.

The exhibit features a large collection of images from each of the locations, as well as text-based supplements describing the events and details of the problems facing each community. Although the issues in Michigan and Central America are different in their core traits, the exhibit seeks to highlight the parallels between these two communities to foster a connection.

“In Flint, the water crisis is sourced from human pollution, whereas El Salvador is facing both scarcity and pollution,” Mendez said. “Water connects us all and we all need water to survive, so we thought that Flint shares some of the same problems as El Salvador. The parallel exists in the contamination and infrastructure (in both communities). And of course, the overall discussion is the decision of whether or not water is a human right or commodity.”

Although GVSU exists in a community far from El Salvador, the university’s close proximity to Flint creates a connection between those here and far away. Smith shared some thoughts on how this exhibit contributes to the overall discussion of the issues rooted in water today.

“I think that what we forget is the commonality we have with different groups of people around the world,” Smith said. “We have similar water scarcity issues as other communities, and we all worry about whether or not we will have enough water as we progress. I think that the whole point of this exhibit is to broaden people’s horizons to see beyond what’s going on in our backyard.”

The professors and students have made sure to make this exhibit accessible as possible, both for students interested in learning or helping directly. Featuring a Spanish translation written by Mendez, bilingual students were certainly kept in mind. A number of charitable organizations are also identified for those looking to give back. 

“I think that (this exhibit) is a nice collection of images that draw people in, and the way (Mendez and Hanson) have structured this exhibit around themes draws people into the narrative,” Smith said. “(The exhibit) is a great way to educate yourself on this issue, much better than whatever you read on your phone.”

“Water: Human Right or Commodity” will be available to view until June 21 at the Blue Wall Gallery in the DeVos Center Building B.