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Brendan Rivage-Seul ’05 (Berea, Ky.) has traveled extensively across the globe and witnessed what happens when developing countries become more westernized. As a result of his global exposure, he is worried about the future of global water consumption.

Sometimes good things result when poor countries take on proven, fruitful capitalist ways. Other times, says Rivage-Seul, a double major in international affairs and Spanish, westernization produces devastating consequences.

He has witnessed the negative consequences of businesses in impoverished areas that privatize water consumption. The situation can be so devastating that Rivage-Seul has decided to examine its implications in a yearlong honors thesis.

“It is my contention that the unregulated commodification and privatization of water is in many ways the culmination of western capitalist expansion,” he says. “More specifically, the increasing levels of unregulated water privatization in developed and undeveloped countries alike represent a direct threat to the lives of the nearly 2.2 billion people worldwide living in absolute poverty.”

Guided by James DeVault, associate professor of economics and business, Rivage-Seul hopes to demonstrate the hazards of globalization as it relates to unregulated water privatization. Most of the dangers and ways to avoid them become clear by comparing a developed and developing community such as Lexington, Ky. and Cochbamba, Bolivia, respectively, he says.

“Water is becoming a very important concern, particularly clean water,” DeVault says. “There’s a shortage of clean water, which why this privatization issue is important.”

He adds that if governments are unable to provide clean water, private business will, and in countries where westernization is a way of life, not all residents will be able to afford it.

“It’s a good topic and something that I’ve never dealt with before,” DeVault says. “I’m interested to see what he comes up with; it’s a neat learning experience for me too.”

If not for the opportunity provided by Lafayette to conduct the research and write his thesis, Rivage-Seul says he would be much less aware of an issue so close to his heart.

“In my three years here, I have conducted two independent studies, traveled abroad four times, and been supported the entire way by our highly qualified faculty members and administrators,” he says. “So far, my experience with my thesis project has been no different. The availability of professors and the unfettered access to resources through the newly renovated Skillman Library have made the beginning stages of this project very rewarding. As a result of Lafayette’s commitment to overall academic excellence, particularly with respect to research, more students are pursuing independent research projects than ever before.”

While Rivage-Seul has always believed that access to clean water should be an indelible right like access to clean air, his interest in the effects of water privatization was piqued last year during an eight-month study abroad program. He spent time in England, Tanzania, Oman, Singapore, India, New Zealand, and Mexico, seeing firsthand what happens when people are denied access to clean drinking water.

“In each country our group studied, among other things, were issues surrounding water scarcity and the threat of its unregulated privatization on micro and macro-economic and social levels,” Rivage-Seul says. “I came away from the experience convinced that water has become the new oil, and will be the hot topic of the 21st century.”

While living with an indigenous community in northern Tanzania, he learned that women and girls there walk three to four miles just to find clean drinking water.

“In extremely dry seasons, these people lose all their livestock, all of their crops, and issues like cholera arise. These issues are really serious,” he says. “In the world, over a billion people are lacking access to clean water.”

Even in the United States, the rate at which people are consuming water is not renewable. Until Americans are unable to pay for water because privatization makes it too expensive, they will not begin to think about the impact privatization has had on the world’s poorest residents, Rivage-Seul maintains.

“I think we’re due for a real slap in the face as a global community,” he says. “I think people have no concept how serious water scarcity is and the more people find themselves paying more per volume for bottled water than gas, the more they are going to start thinking about it.”

With extensive experience overseas and intellectual curiosity, Rivage-Seul has helped educate DeVault on a complex subject.

“He’ll go where he needs to go and do what he needs to do,” DeVault explains. “He’s not afraid to take on a challenge and when he does, he’s immersed in it. He’s also a very bright kid. He’s not just smart, he also seems to savor this type of thing.”

Rivage-Seul says his passion for his subject is intrinsic to his character.

“Water is so fundamental to life. This is something we absolutely cannot live without,” he says. “I don’t think that it can be ignored when you talk about 30,000 people dying every day and many of the diseases are due to not having potable water or proper sewage. I can’t ignore that. I don’t know if it is just because of the way my parents raised me or because I’ve done a fair bit of traveling. I’ve seen what it looks like when a malnourished person suffers from a disease that could be completely prevented if they had access to clean water. To know that I might be playing a part through my consumption is not okay with me.”

With the hopes of utilizing his Spanish skills and knowledge of history, economics, political science, and foreign affairs, Rivage-Seul aspires to teach at the college level or run for political office.

He traveled to Cuba to take part in an annual meeting of philosophers and social scientists for a three-week study, following up that experience at Lafayette with an independent study of Cuban history.

He is chair of the Programming Committee, student director of the Kids in the Community program coordinated by Lafayette’s Landis Community Outreach Center at St. Anthony’s Recreation Center, student associate with the outreach center, spokesperson for the study abroad Spanish program, and a Residence Hall Council liaison. He is a member of the junior varsity basketball team, the varsity golf team, Students for Social Justice, Investment Club, International Students Association, and the Kirby Government and Law Society. He also is a resident adviser, assistant fitness trainer, intramural basketball referee, student representative on the Wellness Committee, writer for The Lafayette, and a member of the orchestra. He graduated from Berea Community High School.

DeVault has published many articles in peer-reviewed journals, including “Congressional Dominance and the International Trade Commission” in Public Choice this year. He also has made professional presentations at annual meetings of the Western, Eastern, Southern, and Korea-America Economic Associations. He is a journal referee for Applied Economics, Eastern Economic Journal, Economica, Journal of Economic Education, Journal of Economic Integration, Review of International Economics, and Southern Economic Journal.

Honors thesis projects are among several major opportunities at Lafayette that make the College a national leader in undergraduate research. Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the last annual conference in April.

Categorized in: Academic News