Connecting Waterpeople

Water is life: The unease about race

  • Water is life: The unease about race

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The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minessota precipitated a global movement with a life of it’s own.

Before this event, Black Lives Matter was just an amorphous conglomeration of Black (and a few White, Native and Hispanic) activists agitating for justice for unarmed Black men killed by the police.

With the brutal death of Floyd in the hands of the police, this movement morphed up into a nation-wide and indeed a global movement facilitating anti racism demonstrations in major US and European cities.

But a call to an end to systemic racism and discrimination against people of color shouldn’t just be on the law enforcement front…

Racism rears its ugly head on other fronts such as access to public goods such as clean water.

Water withdrawals per capita

A quick look at international statistics pertaining to water use per capita gives us an understanding of how water distribution has a sort of disproportionate relationship to race…

Articulation of this fact is done superbly through the ‘Our World in Data‘ initiative by the University of Oxford.

Different nations have been listed against their per capita water withdrawal or usage for specific years.

Despite these statistics being eye-catching what draws most attention is missing current information from the databases of nations many of which are considered least developed.

Infact, to get a balanced picture of the global water situation, one would have to toggle upto the year 2000.

But as historic as it is, it still lends us a sneak preview to the global water situation while leaving behind no surprises…

Among the bottom 20 countries in water usage per capita, Africa has nineteen with some having a water withdrawal of less than 20 cubic metres per capita per year.

Compare this with some of the more developed nations with numbers nearing 2,000 cubic metres per capita per year.

But these numbers still give us a blanket as opposed to a detailed picture of the race-water dynamics especially in some developed nations such as the US.

In many ways, access to clean drinking water is an issue of racial justice in more ways than we could imagine.

Drought and famine

Increased instances of drought and famine especially in Eastern Africa have of late exposed the soft underbelly of African nations struggling to cope with a recurring challenge.

That climate change will continue altering our world by the day is a truth most of us seem to grapple with.

A truth that is tied down together with carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere.

But a truth that reveals other hidden truths some of which we refuse to accept one of which is the disproportionate effects of climate change to the African continent.

Not only does altered weather patterns increase the frequency of drought, it also hastens the advance of the Sahara (a reality faced by many Sahelian nations such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger).

And increased desertification comes with it’s own baggage of challenges including drying up of wells, disappearance of pasture bringing about water stress to many African nomadic communities.

Its no wonder that conflicts related to water and pasture are on the increase in semi arid regions…

Areas which in the not so distant past had enough resources to support communities have all of a sudden converted into battle grounds for the few remaining resources.

It’s therefore no surprise that such African nations are adversely categorised ‘water stressed’…

A term that illustrates the cost Sub-Saharan African nations have to pay to enable nations like the US and China advance their industrial enterprises.

In other words, though the US and China pumped into our world’s atmosphere over 40% of all carbon dioxide in the year 2017, the brunt of the climatic damage was faced by Sub Saharan Africa in the form of water shortages.

Read: Carbon Dioxide and Climate Change

And the story doesn’t end there.

Water treatment technologies

Whereas water deficient nations like those in the Middle East divert huge amount of resources towards desalinating seawater, such technologies are only available to the financially capable in African Nations.

It’s therefore not a surprise to find reverse osmosis or water desalination plants serving high networth neighborhoods as opposed to the common African populace.

In many ways, drinking water treatment is a preserve for those who can afford to pay for it.

This is unlike western nations where water supply is tied together with water treatment.

But unlike the west where the populace generally affords the extra cost of water treatment, the situation is different in Africa where most people cannot even access water itself.

In other words, water treatment is to expensive for the majority of Africans.

Perhaps this is a space for more social entrepreneurs to plug into…

A brand of business people who put community problem solving ahead of the profit element.

In conclusion

It is hard not to connect water with race pretty much because the facts are clear for all to see.

And there is room for the local innovator with the mind of a social entrepreneur to try out solutions to the water problem.

But African governments could also engage their technical experts in formulating local-based water treatment technologies.

The priority must be availing affordable technologies that are easily transferrable to the local communities as opposed to the profit-driven water treatment technologies used by many multinationals.

But the greatest responsibility lies with all of us as the global community…

To play our role in the fight against climate change.

Originally posted on John Mmbaga's blog

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