Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

The Water Diaries – into Jordan’s desert

‘Putting a geography teacher, a scientist and a film-maker together into a Land Rover Discovery and driving across Jordan to learn about water’ ‘Putting a geography teacher, a scientist and a film-maker together into a Land Rover Discovery and driving across Jordan to learn about water’ Jaguar Land Rover
19 Dec
2017
An expedition into the Jordanian desert is helping teachers and schoolchildren understand the precarious state of water

‘Water issues tend to be, if you’ll excuse the pun, a little bit dry.’ But Fearghal O’Nuallain isn’t joking when it comes to highlighting the major problems facing an increasingly water stressed planet. ‘It’s an important resource for us that doesn’t really capture people,’ he continues. ‘So the whole intention of the expedition is to animate water issues and make learning about water interesting and hopefully exciting.’

The expedition in question involved – as he describes it – ‘putting a geography teacher [O’Nuallain], a scientist [Dr Shane McGuinness] and a film-maker [Temujin Doran] together into a specially-prepared Land Rover Discovery and driving across Jordan to learn about water.’

Jordan is one of the world’s most water-stressed countries, with only 135 cubic metres of water available per person per year – far below the 500 cubic metres a year level of ‘absolute scarcity’. Therefore, it struck O’Nuallain as the logical next place to take his project The Water Diaries, in which he undertakes journeys around the world – from the Bolivian Altiplano to the Indus valley – to learn and collect stories about water.

fearghalGeography teacher Fearghal O’Nuallain, and his special Land Rover Discovery (Image: Jaguar Land Rover)

‘From my experience, people are acutely aware of water issues,’ explains O’Nuallain. ‘Everywhere that I’ve been, whether it’s Bolivia, southern Pakistan, India, or Jordan, it’s a common refrain. You talk to farmers, you talk to herdsman, anyone who’s outdoors a lot and engaging with their environment – basically anybody who doesn’t live in a city – and they’ll tell you about how precipitation patterns are changing, they’ll tell you about how the flow rate of a river is changing or how a glacier is receding. I suppose what I’m trying to do with this project is bring those stories into the classroom, and beyond that, to a wider audience. To package those stories in a way that isn’t just doom and gloom, isn’t just yet another environmental catastrophe.’

As an experienced geography teacher, O’Nuallain knows the difficulties of keeping students engaged in a topic as complex as water management, however vitally important the subject is. Finding ways to transport their experiences in the desert back into classrooms, and compiling a detailed set of resources for fellow teachers to utilise in order to cover the subject matter effectively was a leading inspiration for the Jordan expedition, and a strong driving force throughout.

‘The most interesting place from my own point of view was a couple of days ago when we went to Zaatari, a massive refugee camp about 10km south of the Syrian border,’ says O’Nuallain. ‘It’s coming up to its fifth year, and for all intents and purposes it has all the infrastructure of a medium-sized town. We met UNICEF’s WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) specialists there and they talked us through the way they provide water overnight for so many people in informal settlements – we were really impressed by how they were dealing with such a challenge. We also visited a farm in the desert that was pulling water from aquifers to grow onions and tomatoes and alfalfa. That was very interesting, although there were questions about the sustainability of that particular farm, because the water they were pulling from the aquifer was very old, so there were questions of how long it was going to last.’

This ever-present scarcity of water, and the immense importance of finding ways to source it no matter how impossible it may seen, has been a constant observation for O’Nuallain all around the world. ‘It’s something we take for granted in the UK – and Ireland where I’m from – the management of water might not always be great, but it’s never seriously scarce. But in many countries as we go forward, it’s likely to become increasingly scarce, and that can lead to all kinds of political tensions.’

As well as a set of teaching resources for schools, covering primary schools right up to GCSE, the legacy of the expedition will live on as an upcoming film. The Water Diaries Roadshow will also see O’Nuallain hosting talks and workshops around the country through the first half of 2018, helping bring all the resources collected in the field to life. ‘I’ll be visiting schools and sharing the stories and resources that we’ve collected to try and bring some of the adventure back into the classroom,’ says O’Nuallain. ‘It’s all part of bringing water issues alive, and learning about water.’

red line

NEVER MISS A STORY

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Forests

Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many…

Cities

A rising number of cruise ships and their ‘overlooked’ diesel…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig charts the growth and impact of the world’s…

Deserts

Long-term studies reveal the Sahara desert has expanded substantially over…

Water

South America’s wealthiest economy is at a crossroads between environmental…

Forests

The European Court of Justice finds the logging of a…

Mountains

In this extract from his new book, Tides, mountain climber…

Cities

New data from the World Health Organization reveals that nine…

Water

In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan,…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig maps out the global production and distribution levels…

Water

Millions of Americans are living in areas at high-risk of…

Mapping

New interactive maps combine precipitation and temperature to show climate…

Cities

Public transport in India could be on the verge of…

Water

To retrace the route of the fur voyageurs on the waterways…

Cities

IPCC Cities and Climate Change Conference: Alberta host dresses non-renewable…

Water

Increased carbon dioxide is affecting freshwater ecosystems

Forests

The latest laser scanning technology reveals new insights into the…

Forests

Deforestation is having an unexpected effect in the Amazon: fewer…

Forests

The iconic Douglas fir tree, familiar to fans of the…

Forests

Rocky Mountain forests are not regenerating after wildfires