Is Water the Future of War?

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor-At-Large

There is no consensus among water analysts on whether there will be global wars over water ownership, but all factors point to a likely explosion of both intra and inter-state conflict of the precious liquid.

A US.intelligence assessment released Thursday painted a grim picture of the future of water in the world.

“Fresh-water shortages and more droughts and floods will increase the likelihood that water will be used as a weapon between states or to further terrorist aims in key strategic areas, including the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa,” reported the Washington Post.

According to UNESCO, globally there are 262 international river basins: 59 in Africa, 52 in Asia, 73 in Europe, 61 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 17 in North America, and overall, 145 countries have territories that include at least one shared river basin.

UNESCO states that between 1948 and 1999, there have been 1,831 “international interactions” recorded, including 507 conflicts, 96 neutral or non-significant events, and most importantly, 1,228 instances of cooperation around water-related issues.

As a result, some experts argue that the idea of water wars is rather far fetched given the precedent of water cooperation that has been exhibited by many of the countries around the world.

“Despite the potential problem, history has demonstrated that cooperation, rather than conflict, is likely in shared basins,” says UNESCO.

However, the fact remains that throughout the world, water supplies are running dry, and the situation is being compounded by inappropriate management of water resources which will unravel previous international cooperation around water.

“Water has four primary characteristics of political importance: extreme importance, scarcity, maldistribution, and being shared. These make internecine conflict over water more likely than similar conflicts over other resources,” says Frederick Frey, of the University of Pennsylvania.

“Moreover, tendencies towards water conflicts are exacerbated by rampant population growth and water-wasteful economic development. A national and international ‘power shortage,’ in the sense of an inability to control these two trends, makes the problem even more alarming,” he adds.

Already, a third of the global population is said to be short of water, sparking fears of social fallout and violence, especially among the world’s poorest and most malnourished people.

Water is perhaps one of the most important yet overlooked elements to earthly life. That’s why the depletion of this precious resource portents serious clashes between communities and nations.

Water, that special liquid which is essential for the survival of all living things, could become a bombshell that will rip apart communities and nations if not managed properly in today’s world.

As global water sources become depleted due to a combination of factors including overpopulation and overuse, it is inevitable that there will be an increase in competition for the special liquid.

Both climatic and human-induced changes are having a negative impact on the world’s water resources. The increasing variability caused by climate change will have numerous consequences on human life.

According to the World Water Council, population growth – coupled with industrialization and urbanization – will result in an increasing demand for water and will have serious consequences on the environment.

Potential social and political division and unrest over access to water will hit hard marginalized populations in developing countries.

As water resources run dry, there will be a reluctance to share the resource in a peaceful and equitable manner. According to US military analysts, “global-warming water problems will make poor, unstable parts of the world – the Middle East, Africa and South Asia – even more prone to wars, terrorism and the need for international intervention.”

It is predicted that sea-level rise floods will potentially destabilize South Asia countries such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam. The Middle East and North Africa is also faced with acute water shortages, a situation that will pit the countries in the region against each other.

“The only matter that could take Egypt to war against is water,” the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat tellingly said in 1979.

Water security is increasingly becoming a military priority for many of the countries in the Middle East, and the threat of wars between countries is real.

In Africa, the scarcity of water will result in food insecurity for already marginalized communities, especially in the rural areas where the majority of the people live. And this will form the basis for internal extremism as people will be forced to migrate and compete for resources.

In all corners of the globe, the animal kingdom will suffer immensely as human beings fight each other over access to water.

“Water is connected to everything we care about – energy, human health, food production and politics,” said Peter Glieck, president of the Pacific Institute, a global think tank, “And that fact alone means we better pay more attention to the security connections. Climate will effect all of those things. Water resources are especially vulnerable to climate change.”

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Wikileaks: Foe or Friend to Open Society?

Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha| AfroFutures.com Global Editor-At-Large| Harare

THERE was furore in Zimbabwe’s highest political circles when WikiLeaks – an international non-profit organisation that publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers –published classified US state department diplomatic cables on Zimbabwe. The leaks made news headlines and reflected, more than anything else, biases in editorial stance of state and privately-owned media outlets.32

In spite of Wiki Leak’s founder, Julian Assange’s belief that total transparency is for the good of all people, the impact of the spillage of US secrets has been controversial to say the least.

Like in Zimbabwe, the publication of the US state department diplomatic cables caused serious political fallouts in many countries around the world, including the United States itself, Belarus, Palestine, Tunisia among others. In a discussion held recently at the Columbia University Journalism School in partnership with Index on Censorship, one of the world’s preeminent advocacy organizations, panelists put the spilling of United States government secrets under the spotlight.

Mark Stephens, a lawyer who represented Assange at his extradition hearings, explained how Assange redefined society’s traditional view of whistle-blowers.

“The genius of Julian Assange was to recognize a gap in the market,” he said, arguing that Assange pioneered a new way of handling classified information. He also suggested that WikiLeaks has raised questions about how to handle an organization that exists outside of sovereign states’ regulations.

Panelist, P.J. Crowley, a former Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, argued that Wikileaks had backfired against open expression.

“In pushing out 251,000 documents without regard for what was in them, Assange put in danger the very [democratic] activists he thought he was empowering. Possible consequences of this mean less information in cables, less information in discussions, so you have a less informed public service,” said Crowley.

In the wake of the WikiLeaks’ release in Zimbabwe, The Standard newspaper reported on alleged secret diamonds deals involving First Lady Grace Mugabe and the Reserve Bank Governor, Gideon Gono. The First Lady slapped the newspaper with a whooping US$15 million dollar lawsuit. In addition, the state media reported that the attorney general launched a probe to investigate Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s involvement in western sanctions following media reports of a classified US state department cable relating his meetings with Western ambassadors.

Nhlanhla Ngwenya, Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe director said that both the state- and privately owned local media had failed to report objectively on the WikiLeaks saga. He said that local media used the cables to buttress their editorial positions.

“The state media used the Wikileaks to sustain their editorial position against the opposition without noting that the leaks merely consisted of subjective assessments by individuals and not the official position of the US government. The private media did not make an effort to seek comment from the implicated sources,” he said.

“The thing is when you report on a personal opinion it should be balanced; the cables consisted of diplomatic opinions. If you report opinion as fact, there’s a problem.”

According to media analysts, Wikileaks risks “collateral murder” in the name of transparency. In other words, it can be used as a tool to suppress what its leader claims it stands for.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, an associate editor at the Institute for Security Studies, a South Africa-based think tank was quoted by the Voice of America as saying that the spilling of the secrets could lead to destabilization in Zimbabwe. As events in Zimbabwe have revealed, the information leaked by WikiLeaks can potentially be used as a “political tool.”

“Certainly for southern Africa, the WikiLeaks Zimbabwe revelations are most significant, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say they could destabilize Zimbabwe – and thus the region – even further in the months to come,” she said.

“I am not for one second saying WikiLeaks did not have the right to make the information public; I am merely exploring the possible ramifications now that this information is out there,” she added.

However, US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles A. Ray, was more blatant, calling Assange an opportunist.

“Mr Assange is an opportunist who has used this information for self-promotion. Along with freedom of the media is responsibility. Freedom of the press does not allow you to yell fire in a crowded theatre. It goes along with responsibility,” said Ray while addressing journalists at the Gweru Press Club.

“You need to be careful who you hold up as exemplars of a free press. Assange is certainly not a champion of freedom of the press, and he’s certainly no champion of people when he was told that the lives of some of the people in the leaked cables could be killed and his response was if they deal with the Americans then they probable deserve to be killed. I don’t even call him muckraker, I call him muck.”

At the panel discussion in New York, Richard Cohen, weekly columnist for The Washington Post posited that the massive leak of classified material will actually work against the Wikileaks’ goals of greater transparency in the long term.

“Assange proceeded without thought of the people affected. A lot of what was revealed was interesting but didn’t change any minds. It will intimidate people [in the future] from talking honestly,” he said.

Social Media Not All That Hot In Zimbabwe

By Chief K. Masimba| AfroFutures.com Global Editor At Large

IN the wake of the political protests in North Africa, Vikas Mavhudzi made history by becoming Zimbabwe’s first “Facebook arrest”. He had posted a comment on Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangierai’s Facebook page on February 13. It read: “I am overwhelmed, I don’t want to say Mr. or PM what happened in Egypt is sending shockwaves to dictators around the world. No weapon but unity of purpose worth emulating, hey.”

A Facebook user told the police about the comment. Officers found the comment on Mavhudzi’s mobile phone, which he had used to post the message, and arrested him. He was accused of “advocating or attempting to take-over government by unconstitutional means”. Mavhudzi was incarcerated and a court case was filed against him. He is currently out on bail, after being held for over 35 days. The government’s response shows that it is taking no chances on social networking sites.

Social networking websites obviously fuelled the political protests inNorth Africa and other Arab states. As a result, oppressive governments have become suspicious of new media technology. At the same time, experts say that that democracy will increasingly depend on access to the Internet and technology in the 21st century.

In Zimbabwe and other African countries, however, one should not overstate social websites’ potential for transforming governance. While it is true that they offer a low-cost and relatively low-risk way to engage in protest, Zimbabwe’s technological infrastructure is not sufficiently developed to make web-based expressions of dissent reach many people. According to the World Bank, only around 1.5 million Zimbabweans – 12% of the people – have some kind of internet access. Internet literacy is underdeveloped, and there is not much web content that relates specifically to Zimbabwe.

Access to the net, moreover, is largely urban-based. Most people in the cities, however, can only use computers at their workplace, which obviously restricts their scope for independent action. In terms of technology, Zimbabwe is currently estimated to be five years behind other countries in the region. The main reason is the lack of investments in technology in the past 10 years.

Too slow

Mobile internet access, however, is beginning to make a difference. In recent months, there has been exponential growth in this field. Over 600,000 people can access the web via their mobile phones now, and their number is growing daily. Nonetheless, the cost of hand-held devices and web access remains a limiting factor. Moreover, internet connections tend to be too slow to support video or podcast streams.

The internet is likely to play a greater role in the future. Zimbabwe is being connected to the undersea cable. Fibre-optic infrastructure is being set up across the country. It is expected that the nation will have ubiquitous connectivity and low-cost access to data by 2014. New opportunities are thus likely to arise, in terms of both business and politics.

The most popular website among Zimbabweans is Facebook. Sometime in the not too distant future, this sort of social media tool could facilitate spaces for people to openly express themselves in defiance of censorship, circumventing both state-owned and privately-owned media. The tech-savvy young generation could play a leading role.

But we are not there yet. At the moment, Zimbabwe’s technological infrastructure does not facilitate social media with a wide reach, enabling activists to mobilise a mass public. So far, the internet poses no real challenge to the status quo. It has not changed habits and patterns of news consumption and information sharing. Basically, the government still controls what information people get.

History of suppression

Zimbabwe’s government has a track record of suppressing dissent. It is likely to pass laws to allow it to cut off communication services. The arrest of Mavhudzi not only showed that the government is prepared to quash dissent on social networks; it also proved that technologies like the internet and mobile phones are useful for spying.

Governments can interfere with websites and e-mails. They even possess the power to switch off the internet, as was briefly done in Egypt before the old regime fell. The New York Times reported that governments in North Africa used communications technology to track down activists. It stated that Facebook accounts were hacked in Tunisia and that Egyptian authorities used technology that turned mobile phones into furtive listening devices.

A crucial issue for democratic change is whether people dare to speak up. In Zimbabwe, fear is quite common, however. People may shy from using social media for protest purposes because they think they may be under surveillance. The memory of brutal violence during the various election campaigns of 2008  is still very much alive. Unless such fears are overcome, there will be no democratic change. In Egypt, the people had to brave tanks and guns in Tahrir Square to topple their dictator, and that was certainly not an exercise in virtual reality.

To complicate matters in Zimbabwe, leaders in the pro-democracy movement have not always been adept at providing clear positions and leadership. Tsvangirai promised democratic change when he was running against President Robert Mugabe in 2008. Mugabe only prevailed in office because he unleashed unprecedented violence, and afterwards an odd coalition of the  adversaries was formed, brokered by other African leaders. It is not a good omen that Mavhudzi ran into trouble because he posted a message on Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s Facebook page.  This is, after all, the leader who says he is the alternative to the autocrat.

The internet and social network sites will not suffice to bring real democracy to Zimbabwe. Active citizens are necessary to achieve that goal. The opportunities for using up-to-date communications technology are likely to improve in Zimbabwe, and they are likely to give some scope to activists. But unless there are courageous people to grasp such opportunities, things will not change.

Water & Sanitation As A Human Right

waterMANY governments around the world pay only lip service to the problem of water and sanitation thereby denying an essential human right to their populations.  Though governments attest to the importance of water and sanitation as evidenced by MDG on water and sanitation, they make very little investment in the sector. The matter is rarely given prominence on national political agendas.

Water as a human right refers to the human right to safe water and adequate sanitation without which the enjoyment of other essential human rights can be jeopardized.  The availability of safe drinking water and hygienic sanitation facilities can indeed play a key role in the fight against poverty, hunger, child deaths and gender inequality.

According to the UN, over 1,100 million people do not have access to safe drinking water and over 2,600 million have no access to adequate sanitation. To complicate matters, water sources throughout the world are drying up, chiefly due to climate change and the mismanagement of water resources.

Dirty water and lack of sanitation affects mainly the poor, disadvantaged and voiceless in society, that is, women, girls and children.

Approximately, 1,8 million children die every year to diarrhea because of lack of access to clean water, more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. More than 50 percent of the cases occur in Africa and Asia despite the existence of inexpensive and efficient means of water treatment.

 “In the developing world, 24,000 children under the age of five die every day from preventable causes like diarrhea contracted from unclean water,” said Caryl M. Stern, President and CEO, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF at the launch of a report, titled “Diarrhea: Why Children Are Still Dying and What Can Be Done“.  Continue reading

In Jamaica and Globally AIDS Stigma Barrier to Progress

In 2005, Jamaica – a country notorious for homophobia predominantly channeled through musical lyrics – received global attention for the killing of Lenford “Steve” Harvey, a gay man and an AIDS activist.

Harvey’s murder was blamed on stigma and discrimination against gays, and led to a huge outcry within the AIDS community.

The witch hunt against homosexuals in the country is regarded as a factor contributing to the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

According UNAIDS, the national HIV infection rate in Jamaica is 1.5 percent among an estimated 2,700,000 people, and AIDS is the leading cause of death among 15- to 44-year-olds. Predominant modes of HIV transmission include multiple sex partners, history of sexually transmitted infections, drug use, and unprotected sex among men who have sex with men.

It is estimated that 33 percent of gay men in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city, are HIV positive, but many of them opt to stay underground, away from public health services due to fear of stigma and discrimination. Continue reading

A kind of freedom in Zimbabwe’s queues

AT FIVE IN THE MORNING I woke up with the image of a long human queue in the back of my mind. A friend had sent me some money from overseas, and in order to get access to it I had to be the proverbial “early bird” in order to be the first in the queue at the bank.

As I roused myself from sleep I thought with sober sadness how long I would have to stand in the queue to get my money. I would have to queue for at least three hours before getting served. Standing in queues that appear like mushrooms everyday in Harare has taught me patience. I am amazed and alarmed at my capacity for waiting. The struggle to withdraw money from Zimbabwean banks feels like a ton load of ants crawling and stinging the skin. The daily withdrawal limit is less than one American dollar, barely enough to buy a loaf of bread.

Outside, birds chirped an early morning chorus, their beautiful harmony far removed from the bedlam that Zimbabwe has become. The electricity suddenly failed and I couldn’t make the cup of tea that I was so much looking forward to. Electricity cuts are a common experience in today’s Zimbabwe; we have grown so accustomed to them that we dismiss the dark reality with a flippant remark or a shrug – much like we have become accustomed to long queues and the country’s stagnant politics. Continue reading

Mugabe’s Wrath of the State

President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union has, in recent days, embarked on a warpath against civil society organizations.

 Robert Mugabe

 President Robert Mugabe: Africa’s strongman

Ordinary citizens with political views that favor the opposition political party, Movement for Democratic Change, have also not escaped the wrath of the state.

 Mugabe’s government accuses civil society organizations of both working in cahoots with the MDC and being funded by Western countries.

In Zimbabwe today, the venom of the state machinery, including the military, the police and the state-owned media, is being unleashed against anyone perceived to be connected to the opposition, which won the parliamentary elections in March — a first in Zimbabwe since it attained independence from British rule in 1980.

Since 1980, ZANU-PF has won all the parliamentary and presidential elections by any means possible — fair, foul or murderous.

Incumbent President Mugabe, who narrowly lost to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai 43.2 percent to 47.9 percent in the March election, blames Western forces (as he has glibly done for the past eight years) for his loss of popularity.

Ahead of a runoff election scheduled for June 27, Mugabe has invoked all the state machinery’s hell against his people, and is determined to win by any means necessary.

Throughout the country, opposition supporters have been abducted and discovered with limbs, private parts, ears and tongues chopped off in scenes reminiscent of ritual killings.

“It’s a desperate situation,” said Keith Mazonde, a Harare-based nongovernmental organization worker in a Skype interview, “But the old man [Mugabe] is going nowhere.”

“I think he will win, but if you get me right, it’s a different kind from the win we know,” added Mazonde.

The clampdown of civil society organizations by Mugabe’s government comes in the wake of an order barring humanitarian aid organizations from distributing food and agricultural aid to impoverished Zimbabweans.

Mugabe has accused humanitarian aid organizations of using food handouts to campaign in favor of the opposition. NGOs have been ordered to re-apply for operating licenses.

According to Zimbabwe’s National Association of Nongovernmental Organizations, HIV patients will likely die as a result of the ban on food aid because they rely on NGOs for home-based care and antiretroviral medical assistance.

“The country has become a bedlam for people seeking an honest means of living. It looks like it will get better if only Mugabe goes, and a government of national unity is the way forward,” said Obert Sherera, an NGO worker.

UNICEF estimates that a total of 185,000 children are likely to miss the essential support they need, including healthcare and nutrition, and labels the government ban against NGOs a “human rights violation.”

“One day it will all come to an end but for now people are living in fear,” said Nornia Dumare, a political activist in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city.

Already, political analysts are saying that under the current circumstances it will be impossible for Zimbabwe to hold a free and fair presidential election.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, the Zimbabwean government’s campaign of violence and intimidation against the opposition MDC has extinguished any chance of a free and fair presidential runoff on June 27.

The report titled “‘Bullets for Each of You’: State-Sponsored Violence Since Zimbabwe’s March 29 Elections,” said that 36 politically motivated deaths and 2,000 victims of violence have been recorded in the run-up to the June runoff election.

“Since the runoff was announced the violence in Zimbabwe has gotten even worse,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Zimbabweans can’t vote freely if they fear their vote may get them killed.”