Posted by: shipbright | August 27, 2009

Water and war….Darfur

Africa faces what oftentimes seem like unimaginable problems. I spent three weeks in Kenya back in the late 1970’s as a pampered tourist/college kid gawking at the magnificent animals of Tsavo, Amboseli, Serengeti and other mellifluous sounding exotic places. In the north of Kenya along the border with Sudan there were whispers of “troubles” and danger as animals, such as elephants, were being poached and slaughtered with their ivory being sold for weapons.

camo soldierOn the Serengeti at the border between Kenya and Tanzania I approached a truck at a remote village’s lone gas station. As I neared the truck the canvas flap at the rear swung open and a British soldier, painted in camo, told me to “get lost” in a thick accent while using his automatic weapon as a pointer. He actually didn’t say “get lost” was a little more involved and had to do with female family members, unnatural acts, and I think some sort of animal. The encounter visibly shook me up and when I returned to our van my friend Pooh [Starr] Gephart asked what was wrong. It took a couple of Tusker beers to cure my case of the “yipes”.

NormCemeteryBut it drove home that the things that go on in far off lands that we read about are real, it happens, and it’s scary. Sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring problems does not make them go away. We need to work within the global community as both leader and partner.  We must be a leader in developing political global will to address, not to impede, fundamental environmental and economic issues especially as they have to do with our natural resources.  Going it alone [“mission accomplished”] or succumbing to our past isolationist leanings are both bad ideas and have only created fields of headstones in foreign lands…that’s my “rant” for the day because at the end of the day all I see is human suffering and we can do much better than that.  We expect better of ourselves.

Dogs of War and Sleeping Dogs: So I will be highlighting some of the conflicts relating to freshwater resources that are already in play and those emerging.  One conflict you have undoubtedly become aware of is the crisis in Darfur–a region of Sudan.  The Darfur tragedy is a multi-faceted conflict with many elements but the competition and conflict for water and arable lands kicked over a bee’s nest of old animosities.  Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, spoke about Darfur and water scarcity in 2008: “…There are many factors at work in this conflict, of course. But almost forgotten is the event that touched it off – drought. A shortage of life’s vital resource.

The Darfur story: darfur_mapThe Darfur region has been water deprived by longterm drought. Far off to the west Lake Chad has shrunk to almost nothing [more on that in another post] further stressing the region. The competition for scarce water to either farm or graze created a flashpoint between northern Arabs [grazers] and the non-arab african tribes of the region [Fur and Zaghawa] who are farmers. The non-arab farmers formed the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement [SLA/M], and later the Justice and Equality Movement [JEM], and took up arms because they felt the government of Sudan was ignoring their plight. The Arabs created the Jinjawid militias and were armed by the Sudanese government to put down the western tribes because the government didn’t have the troops to do it themselves. What has ensued is genocide as the Jinjawid have made no distinction between fighters and civilians. If you aren’t a Jinjawid you die…women, children, the elderly. All because of competition for scarce resources that was inflamed by religion, old animosities and an inept corrupt central government.  It is reported that over 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur. Over 2 million people have been displaced. The stories of the indiscriminate killings, rape, torture is numbing so as to defy understanding.

My son Toby made a point when we were discussing this and said, ” …you have existing ethnic and religious tensions, a shoddy government, and a scarcity of natural resources …  Perhaps the moral of the [Darfur] story is that competition for resources can wake a sleeping dog…”  Excellent point. There are many “sleeping dogs” around the globe ready to be kicked into conflict when the waters run dry.

Here are two good resources for more background on Darfur:

This issue is not a partisan one. It’s not about liberal movie stars or conservative radio hosts. Suspend for the moment our natural predilection for pigeon-holing people’s political values and just look at what we as humans keep doing to ourselves with open eyes. One death is a tragedy, 300,000 is a numb statistic. I am ill-equipped in my intellect and my heart to fully grasp the true immensity of this issue. Perhaps only those that actually see, hear, smell, touch and taste Darfur suffer the dreams and hauntings of yet another reminder of our fall from grace.

darfur_genocide“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

John Dunne

We’re a thirsty planet and we need to Future Think and head these problems off BEFORE there are more Darfur’s because there will be…

No civility…no civilization.



  1. Really good and well written!

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