Something I Had Been Meaning to Post About

There is probably no greater need for humankind to survive than regular access to clean water. Whenever one hears of a major disaster such as a tsunami or a hurricane in the developing world, with good reason there are fears of cholera epidemics. There are any number of diseases that could be prevented with clean water or regular access to water that can be made clean.

Which is why when I first heard this report on NPR about the Rio Sao Francisco, I got angry. Here's why:

But the bounty of this great waterway passes by thousands of poor
families. In the area around the city of Petrolina in the distressed

state of Pernambuco, 90 percent of the water from the river goes to

large-scale agriculture, according to officials from the federal

agricultural research agency. And the agriculture is not for for local

consumption but for export. One official said with a tinge of

bitterness, "Brazil is exporting its water."

Lush fields of irrigated grapes, mangoes, and melons destined for the

United States and Europe shimmer like a mirage across the highway from

where Jose de Sousa, 30, lives with his wife and seven children. But in

his bleak settlement of cinder-block homes ironically called "Living

Waters," there is only an intermittent supply of running water.

De Sousa's eldest child, 12-year-old Gessia, died in February when she fell from a leaking irrigation canal while trying to collect water. A
makeshift altar marks the spot where she fell. De Sousa says his children routinely climb the 30-foot-high concrete canal to get water

for their families. His daughter died making her third trip of the day.

Families shouldn't have to count on their twelve-year-old daughters to get water for the family, nor should anyone have to maneuver along a 30 foot high leaking irrigation canal to get water. It gets worse:

Less than an hour away, outside the town of Lagoa Grande, there appears to be no shortage of water for one of Brazil's most successful wineries. A home worthy of Architectural Digest stands on the riverfront beside the fields of grapes soaking up the sunshine. The churning waters of the Sao Francisco flow passed 500-acre vineyard. Owner Joao Santos, a native of Portugal, says the river is the lifeblood of his business.

"Each of the plants requires some 400 liters of water a year," or about 90
gallons, Santos says. He says he pays about $2,000 a year for water rights. At that rate, he's paying virtually pennies for millions of gallons of water.                   

In 1999 I went to a small town in the state of Minas Gerais called Catas Altas. My most vivid memories of this visit were the two locations in which anyone could go and help themselves to water that descended from the nearby mountains. This, despite the fact that as far as I could tell anyone in town who had a roof over their head had running water.

I remember leaving with the feeling embedded in mind that water was life, purely and simply. Getting it shouldn't have to involve risking your life.

Cross-posted at Beautiful Horizons

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