Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues.  Our student Maxwell Perrin makes this connection here…

On March 22nd, a piece entitled Are African land grabs really water grabs? was published on CNN.com.  The article appeared in the opinion section of the site, but was written by three PhDs— all of whom are affiliated with universities and/or water related organizations.  The article describes the recent rush for agricultural land in Africa.  Investors are purchasing millions of hectares of land hoping to profit from production or increasing land prices.   These investors claim that this will stimulate the local economies and that the lands they seek are currently unproductive.  However, both claims are unfounded.  The authors assert that the true intention of the ‘land-grabbers’ is to grab water.  From the perspective of an engineering student, the article didnot shout any fallacies in terms of WRE; however, the article lacked some important content.  Who the investors are, where the land they’re acquiring is, and what exactly they intend to do on it are a few items the article fails to specify.

The most important lens through with to look at water-grabbing is social and environmental justice. Social justice and environmental justice are the theories of moral ‘rightness’ in the context of humanity and the environment, respectively.  Regardless of what investors do on the land they grab, the local people will be affected, and most likely negatively, from diversion, pollution, or otherwise.  Water’s ever-moving nature, however, makes it a legal complexity.  Who owns the water? The people who live next to it and have for decades?  Those who live upstream?  Those who pump the most? The jurisdiction of water is very often unclear, and water-grabbers use this to their advantage, walking the fuzzy line between legality and illegality. The article provides an example of how private actions had drastic effects on the health and safety of people downstream.  In documentaries like Blue Gold and Tapped, we’ve seen that private companies have fatally affected municipalities in the US by over-pumping.  If it can happen here, it can happen in Africa.  We can only hope that the local people and the environment aren’t exploited for the precious resource.

The geopolitics of the water justice movement[1], an article published in Peace Conflict & Development provides a more comprehensive explanation of the legal and social issues surrounding fresh water and the conflict between transnational corporations and global citizen/NGO movements.  The article centers on a critical question, one that should be taken from these articles and considered:  Is water a fundamental right or a tradable commodity?

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References

Adam Davidson-Harden, Anil Naidoo and Andi Harden,  The geopolitics of the water justice movement Peace Conflict & Development, Issue 11, November 2007 at http://www.peacestudiesjournal.org.uk

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