Water, Rights and Privileges, and Global Markets
An article about famine in the Horn of Africa by Maude Barlow appeared today. It is worth your consideration. (h/t coberly) My own response is in comments. Following are excerpts:
Most Westerners see the crisis in the Horn of Africa as a combination of a large population, chronic poverty, corruption on the part of African government officials, failed states and no rain, and that none of this will ever change so giving money to this self perpetuating crisis is throwing it away. But I offered another narrative that I believe is closer to the truth.
I believe the water and food crises in the Horn of Africa are the direct result of old-fashioned colonial exploitation: land grabs by foreign hedge and investment funds and wealthy countries setting up large foreign-based agribusinesses that are guzzling the lion’s share of the water resources and using them to grow crops and biofuels for export and drive up speculation.
Foreign acquisitions are forcing small farmers and peasants off the land depriving them of access to food and water. The food and water of the region is being used for export for profit and not being used for local people. As a result, food prices in the region have gone up 200 per cent in less than a year and the price of water has risen 300 per cent. The foreign minister of Ethiopia defends his government’s actions with the neo-liberal explanation that these foreign “investments” will make the country wealthy enough that it can stop producing food and start buying it on the world market.
But exactly the opposite is happening when you drain the land of its water, as is being done by this agribusiness industry, and the rains stop coming. The drought is directly related to both climate change and the resulting desertification of a land stripped of its water sources. Here is what is essential to know: deserts can arise because humans treat land and water badly.
Desertification is taking place in over 100 countries in the world, as we strip the land of land-based water from aquifers and rivers, sending it to thirsty mega-cities (who dump it untreated into oceans), or using it to grow food and other goods for the world market, where it is transported out of local watersheds in the form of “virtual water exports.”
[end of excerpts. feel free to research the subject yourself. if Barlow is right, she provides a much more reality based understanding of what is going on in the world than the usual politicized and politicized economics analyses we usually see… coberly]
The quote part of blogger has fused the excerpts. I will repair when I can, but am having trouble with the commands hanging up permanently.
But the issue of access to water as a privelege might be new to many at this basic level.
I keep in mind the shock to many people that a mortgage was simply ‘legally defined privileges to use the house’ until the mortgage was paid off. Much different than owning the house mindset, even if you are comfortably set to make payments.
If you don’t change this:
“Most Westerners see the crisis in the Horn of Africa as a combination of a large population, chronic poverty, corruption on the part of African government officials, failed states and no rain, and that none of this will ever change so giving money to this self perpetuating crisis is throwing it away.”
The rest doesn’t matter. The Horn is basically one giant failed state with Eithiopia barely keeping ahead of the game. Ms Barlow’s gripe is with the corrupt or non-existant governments in the region. Since we are not allowed nor wish to do anything permenant about that (and it would take decades of Western Occupation and billions to change) your not going to see any changes.
Pray for lots of rain – but otherwise we are just throwing money away. Until the underlieing problems are fixed nothing will get better
Islam will change
I am afraid it is “our” money that is supporting those corrupt governments. Try to get a picture of what is going on in detail, and save all of us the standard political “those bad people are just sucking our money … and we need to let our brave and compassionate corporations have their way with them.”
I think you could find references you could cross check if you weren’t afraid of learning something that didn’t leave you smug and comfortable.
i try not to be stupidly romantic about the poor exploited peoples.. but “Western Occupation” is the root of their present problems.
On the surface corruption of government might look implacable in the region. It is an accepted part of business expenses by multi national companies. The Chinese have their own system and certainly an expertise historically in exploitation.
I take it you haven’t followed the money for developing businesses in the region…?
The root of their problems is a lack of rule of law, corrupt government, no government (rule by warlord – see Somalia). Mix well with an un-educated populance, no capital, chronic low-level fighting, and a dire lack of even rudimentary medical care and you have all the makings of continuous disaster. Which is the normal for most of these countries. Then add lack of rain as the icing of this s**t-pile and you are were we are today.
Until you change the fundementals, nothing you will do will have any lasting effect. Trying to find someone, anyone else to blame other than the natives for these problems is intellectually dishonest.
The only true long-term solution wiould be wholesale western occupation of the country, a huge infastructure and medical facilities build, mass education of the populance, creating from whole cloth a government of laws etc. This would require the West to literally run the place for at least a generation just to get the population educated and experienced enough to take the reins. Probably two generations and the west would have to be there the entire time. It would cost trillions, it would be cheaper to rebuild Europe again after a WWII destruction, becuase the cuture would still be in place to allow the rapid rebuild. In most of these countries that cuture does not exist and would have to be created.
Or we can send food aid, which will get stolen by warlords, or resold on the market (thus undermining those familiy farmers by gutting the price of their crops), and feel good about ourselves.
And do it again next year….and the next…and the next
Compare the differences in outcome between the Horn and the SW US and Northern Mexico. No one is starving here. But we do have all those big agri-businesses in spades. So we should be dieing in droves down here in Texas. (well they are in N. Mexico due to the Gunrunner scandel of Obama’s DOJ, but I digress).
It comes down to culture, rule of law, good governence, and all the other attributes that the countries on the Horn of Africa do not have.
And it doesn’t make them bad people either.
Islam will change
What corrupt government ? The worst famine is in Somalia where no entity has a monopoly on violence. I can’t believe that foreign agribusiness is investing in Somalia. The problems described by the post seem to be in Ethiopia, which is not the hardest hit country.
Note I am not saying that people are doing fine in Ethiopia, nor that restrictions on foreign firms using water wouldn’t be good for Ethiopia. The post describes a huge problem, but the phrase “Horn of Africa” refers to a huger one.
I might add that, if the problem were “large population, chronic poverty, corruption on the part of African government officials, … and no rain,” it would not follow that giving money is throwing it away. Poverty can be reduced even under corrupt governments (note the cases of India and China). People are living longer even in Africa. It isn’t hopeless.
Also there is excellent research on the effects of aid efforts by NGOs based on experiments and proving that money which is given isn’t thrown away.
That’s science (OK it’s economics too — there is some overlap)
I have no doubt the Chinese are very good at it – seem to be working for them in the Sudan.
But you miss the point – I don’t see many multinationals coming into Texas and exploiting us during teh drought down here. Do you? Countries which have all the attributes that the countries in the Horn don’t, have no difficulty handling a little drought. If it got bad enough we could build a pipe from the great lakes Texas to solve the problem – and we could do it. These countries can’t.
The lack of rain just makes the ‘normal’ level of disaster reach chronic levels. But lots of water will not change the fundementals involved.
Trying to blame anything or anyone for this other than the lack of the rule of law, individual rights, property rights, education, sanitation, transport etc etc will not solve the problem. The rest of the world could walk away from Africa right now and it would get far worse.
But we can’t or won’t spend the funds to actually try to fix the problem. See the difference between how South Africa handles things and Eithiopia or Egypt or Samalia…
Islam will change
that’s what you said before. i don’t think you and me shouting at each other is going to prove anything. but you might want to read some history of africa. they did have two centuries of wholesale western occupation.
its not just “western occupation”…china also has a major presense in sudan, somalia & ethiopia…they have built or financed major infrastructure projects in more than 35 African countries with an eye to exploit that continents resources…
might all be true, but the purpose of the post was to say watch what is happening to the water.
and yes, see if those benevolent and efficient Western multinationals are helping the problem or making it worse. and yes, even those NGO’s bear watching.
those multinationals are exploiting you texans as we speak. maybe not on your water… but that will take some time, given the American culture of public ownership of water resources.
I have no reason to think Africans are any smarter than Americans, and we got off to a good start in this country. So don’t think I am saying “Africans good, Americans bad.” I am just saying… take a look at what is really going on. You might learn something you didn’t expect.
I have never encountered a debate about Africa that did not involve Westerners convincing themselves that they arent the center of it all. And this one is true to form. Please, please, i mean please look at at the land registry statistics in Ethipia, or Sudan for that matter. Multinational land companies dont control even a fraction of a percent of land. The Horn of Africa is semi-desert mostly, with subsistance agriculture as it’s core. A necus of many concspiring problems is the clearest answer, BUT that dosent work for most western intellectuals, becuase well, your not a the center of gravity…so
i am not an intellectual, so your reasoning does not affect me.
i can’t see that the multinationals have to own the land to have an effect.
i haven’t been able to confirm Barlow’s claim, or disconfirm it, but her story “sounds familiar” and the little checking i have done so far would tend to confirm Buff’s view, at least in Somalia… unless you are a skeptic and read between the lines.
If you can’t research this meaningfully, at least tuck it in the back of your mind so you will recognize the signs when it comes to a neighborhood near you.