During a recent trip to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, I witnessed firsthand the effects of one of the most pressing issues of our time: fresh water scarcity. Brazil is suffering its worst drought in 80 years, with water shutdowns and rolling blackouts, a byproduct of the country’s reliance on hydropower. From Brazil to California, which is currently in the grips of one of the most extreme droughts in state history, water is quickly becoming the next oil: abundant in some areas, scarce most everywhere else.

During my travels, again and again, my hosts asked me the question that inspired this issue of Spectrum: What is MIT doing to combat global problems tied to scarcity of water and food?

The Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS) represents MIT’s comprehensive effort to identify practical, sustainable solutions to this growing threat. In true MIT fashion, J-WAFS draws on expertise across the Institute, in fields as diverse as biology, earth science, civil engineering, urban planning, and political science. In this issue of Spectrum,
J-WAFS’s director, John Lienhard, describes the lab’s mission and approach to identifying solutions.

J-WAFS represents only a piece of MIT’s water and food puzzle. From the student and alumni startups, to the work of Antoine Allanore to find sustainable ways to replace the effectiveness of chemical fertilizer, brilliant minds across our community are bringing their knowledge to bear on this great challenge.

Our ambition is as grand as the problem itself: We aim to contribute to a fundamental change to the global equation on water and food. Together, and with the full might of MIT behind us, I believe that goal is within reach.


L. Rafael Reif

L. Rafael Reif

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