POINTS OF VIEW:
Ronald Rosenberg, U.S. Army Medical
I think that Americans have a romantic view
of Africa. They think about the savanna and these huge
herds of elephant, and antelope and lions, but in fact,
modern Africa is really much more like this, with large
cities like Nairobi that act as magnets to bring people
in from the countryside where they're having trouble
making a living. When they come into a city like Nairobi,
they bring with them a nucleus for epidemics.
Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute
Perhaps the greatest failure of development in the 20th
century was our failure to meet basic human needs for
water for everyone. And the direct implication of this
failure to provide basic human needs for water are water-related
diseases. Three to five million people die a year, 20
or 30,000 perhaps a day, from water-related diseases
that are easy to prevent.
Thomas Homer-Dixon, University of Toronto
Squatter settlements need large amounts of water, and
you'll find that often rich groups and powerful groups
who control the water resources will use their power
to basically extract huge profits by selling water to
the squatter settlements.
Robert Engelman, Population Action International
Forty or fifty years ago water
on anybody’s radar screen. Heck, twenty years ago
it wasn’t on anybody’s radar screen. That’s
typical of the way a lot of population and environment
interactions are happening in the world. Things just
get gradually a little bit more stressful in an ecosystem
or an environment, but people figure they can live with
them. And then suddenly some kind of tipping point is
reached. Suddenly water that was available for generations
just isn’t there anymore.
Jimmy Steindinger, Citrus Farmer
Jimmy Steindinger, a Texas citrus farmer, has prospered
because of the Rio Grande.
“Without water, it's just like without money,” says
Steindinger. “If you go to a banker, the first
thing they ask is if you got any water for your farm
or for your crop. If you don't, they won't hardly loan
you any money, so water to me is like having money in
the bank, because without that, I can't make a crop.
And without makin' a crop, I don't make money. I've been
farming 36 years now – I never did worry about
the water because I always felt like I was gonna have
plenty of water.”
Because of the adverse effects of the Falcon Dam on
his supply of water, Steindinger has been forced to destroy
twenty acres of productive grapefruit trees. There's
simply not enough water for irrigation. For Steindinger,
the destruction of a mature and fertile crop is both
an emotional and expensive experience.
“It feels pretty bad to see these tress that I
have planted eleven years ago – having to take
them out because I don't have enough water,” he
We now live in a world where the quality of water can be considered
a major human rights issue. In the poverty stricken slums of
the developing world, people have little choice other than to
dump raw sewage into their local river.
The health affects are significant, particularly in the developing
world. In numerous cities, the biggest health problem is the
lack of clean water. With economic prosperity, the advantage
of newly acquired wealth is clearly apparent.
Suzhou Creek is an ancient canal cutting through the heart of
Shanghai. Today it’s the city’s lifeline. Each day
thousands of barges carry food and construction materials in
and out of Shanghai. A few years ago the canal was literally
Suzhou Creek received massive amounts of wastewater and pollution
from factories flanking the canal. To remedy the problem authorities
invested billions of dollars to build a series of huge tunnels
to collect Shanghai’s wastewater, which was then treated
and flushed out to sea. The clean up of Suzhou Creek was made
possible because of a thriving economy.
Slum in Haiti
Located 600 miles off the southeast coast of the United States
is the Caribbean island nation of Haiti. This is the Western
Hemisphere's poorest country and unlike Shanghai it suffers from
severe economic depression and political instability.
When a nation can't afford to provide the basic
necessities of life, water becomes a rare and often unaffordable
In the slums of Port-au-Prince, the nation's capital, a quarter
of a million Haitians are at the mercy of local gang members
who control all forms of commerce, including the sale and distribution
of safe drinking water. The children that live in these back
alleys are the innocent victims of poverty. Their life expectancy
is almost thirty years less than children born in the United
In Haiti, a week's supply of water could be equal to a day's
wages. When a nation can't afford to provide the basic necessities
of life, water becomes a rare and often unaffordable commodity.
Fortunately, even in the world's poorest countries, there are
In a remote corner of Zimbabwe, in Southern Africa, during the
dry season it may not rain for months. Watering holes and grasslands
disappear. Elephants invade farms and pastures in search of food.
An unforgiving sun turns villages into dusty wastelands.
Seasonal drought has always been part of this nation’s
history. But when the rains don’t come most farm families
are forced to struggle with hunger – sometimes famine – as
their tiny plots of land turn brown. Yet there are communities
in Zimbabwe that have found ways to cope with the lack of rain.
The Rio Grande River marks much of the twelve hundred mile border
between Mexico and Texas. And for those living in one of the
most arid regions of North America – the Rio Grande has
always been a primary source of water.
Along the Falcon Dam reservoir, the history of
the water crisis is literally etched in stone. A series of
high water marks along the shore show a dramatic and steady
loss of water.
Even in times of drought, the river always provided. Fifty years
ago the Mexican and United States governments built the Falcon
Dam across the Rio Grande. They also created a huge reservoir
that was supposed to supply the region's water needs well into
the 21st century.
But, in the five decades since the dam was built, much has happened
in the Rio Grande Valley. New cities sprang up on both sides
of the border. Commerce flourished – and as the population
exploded from 200,000 to 20 million – the demand for water
Along the Falcon Dam reservoir, the history of the water crisis
is literally etched in stone. A series of high water marks along
the shore show a dramatic and steady loss of water. The first
to suffer were local farmers. These farmers have just become
a statistic – victims of a global water crisis that threatens
to be even more serious in the years ahead.