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Taking The Drought By Storm

rainy Day rEvolution

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Mongolian herder Damubulinzhabu stands next to a heavily polluted lake adjoining his grasslands in Dongwu Banner. Though the headaches and nausea from drinking polluted water and breathing the noxious odors is subsiding, they are still moving as their grasslands remain polluted.


the Issue

northern tanzania: Competition between humans and animals for scarce water resources sometimes means that water is often shared. In extreme cases cattle farmers have been known to annex water resources for the use of their animals only, creating tensions in the community. When water is shared, animal waste can result in disease and contamination of a limited resource.

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The blowing sands of Inner Mongolia, where the desert is expanding

faster than almost anywhere on Earth, has attracted advocates of all stripes in China. One of them is Chen Jiqun (pronounced chun gee chun), an artistwho specializes in landscapes and portraits and whose work is in the prestigious permanent collection of the National Gallery. Chen is now one of the leading grasslands conservationists in China, an articulate advocate for herders and their nomadic grazing patterns, which he is convinced are key to saving the grasslands.

Chen was 20 years old in 1967 when he decided to go to East Ujumchin Banner, a section of eastern Inner Mongolia 600 hundred miles north of China’s capital. Inner Mongolia during that period was a place of astonishing beauty and harshness. Though the air rarely was still and the ground was dry, great expanses of tall grass swept to the horizons, unfurling like a great waving sea beneath surpassingly huge skies. Summers were short and hot. Winters were ferocious, marked by blizzards and knife-edge cold.


Since 1980 desert has claimed 2 million acres of cropland, nearly 6 million acres of rangeland, and 16 million acres of forests in northern China.


Badamusileng, a Mongolian nomadic herder, runs sand from a dry lake bed through his hands west of Mandubaolage. Local people have watched Arxiot Lake be transformed from a 500-hectare lake deep enough to swim in to a 1000-ha desert in less than a decade as mines drain the groundwater and a recently constructed road blocks one of its feeder streams. The lake first went dry in 2003, and the resulting desert has doubled in size over the last 4 years.



Mongolian herders in traditional dress look at the remnants of Arxiot Lake west of Mandubaolage. Local people have watched Arxiot Lake be transformed from a 500-hectare lake deep enough to swim in to a 1000-ha desert in less than a decade as mines drain the groundwater and a recently constructed road blocks one of its feeder streams. The owners of the mines did not meet with any of the herders before fencing off the grasslands around the mines. The sandstorms that kicked up on this day are smaller than usual because of recent rain. The lake first went dry in 2003, and the resulting desert has doubled in size over the last 4 years.

Most importantly, the dust and sandstorms, along with the growing expanses of extremely dry and eroding grasslands and desert from which they are born, threaten the livelihoods of 400 million Chinese. Sandstorms driven by 80 mile-per-hour winds that can last days are putting severe stress on China, causing roughly $1 billion in damage annually, according to the Chinese government. An Asian Sahara of sand is moving closer every year to Beijing, blackening the sky and producing environmental refugees and social unrest in Inner Mongolia and throughout China. “Desertification is not a natural function,” said John D. Liu, an American-born journalist, researcher, and director of the Environmental Education Media Project for China, a 10-yearold environmental organization based in Beijing. “Scientifically what’s happening is that the grasslands are losing natural infiltration and retention of water, which is altering respiration and evaporation rates. That affects relative humidity, and potentially precipitation in other regions.” “Socially and politically what you are talking about are policy decisions made in earlier eras – from the 1950s to the 1990s – and now those mistakes are really biting them,”added Mr. Liu, who’s lived and worked in China since 1979, when he helped open theCBS television news bureau in Beijing. “They have to deal with the decisions made inthose years. And in Inner Mongolia those decisions have produced some horrific consequences.Large areas of the region have been massively devegetated.”


When teachers and business development specialists from the

West return from long stints in East Africa, they almost always agree on one of the most significant impediments to the region’s prosperity: hygiene in schools. Absenteeism is high because of the proliferation of preventable diseases, such as diarrhea. But the most significant problem, they say, is how the absence of running water and sanitary facilities affects adolescent girls. More than a half of the girls who drop out of school in upper primary classes in Africa, according to various studies by physicians and the United Nations, do so because they miss school periodically, particularly during their menstrual periods. This is due to various factors, among them lack of sanitary pads, lack of separate toilet facilities, and lack of easy access to sources of clean water in schools.

When an American flushes the toilet, he or she uses the same amount of water that a person in the Third World uses all day to wash, clean, cook and drink.

ghana: An old man with trachomainduced blindness poses in a droughtstricken field in Northern Ghana. Trachoma is the leading cause of blindness in Africa and Asia and is linked to a lack of clean running water and adequate hygiene. A bacteria develops which attacks the eyelids and leads to blindness.



tanzania: Schoolgirls fetching water on their way to school. The school has no running water so the girls are sent out before, during and after school to fetch water from a ground well. Water is the responsibility of women in Africa. Many women and young girls live lives which revolve around an endless cycle of walking for water. In many cases this is something which takes up hours of every day and precludes women from education, private enterprise and general improvement in term of quality of life.

The water, sanitation and hygiene situation in Kenyan schools is emblematic of a facet of the freshwater crisis that receives limited global attention. Only 29% of schools in the country have access to water and sanitation facilities. Typically 40 to 150 children share one latrine. A Kenyan government health study in 2006 found that over 90% of primary schools in rural Kenya lack access to safe water and do not have even the simplest facilities for washing hands. Without reading and writing skills, millions of young and uneducated women are essentially condemned to a short life of illness, lost opportunities, and virtual slavery. In rural Africa, 19 percent of women spend more than one hour on each trip to fetch water, an exhausting and often dangerous chore that robs them of the chance to work and learn. Women without toilets are forced to defecate in the open, risking their dignity and personal safety. The situation in the other regions of Africa is similarly bleak. In 27 African countries, greater than 30% of the population does not have access to safe water. In nine of those countries, more than 50% of the people lack access to safe water. There are 36 African countries where more than 50% of the population lacks access to sanitation. 40% of all child deaths from diarrhea are in sub-Saharan Africa.


By the standards of rural Mexico, Francisca Rosas Valencia cuts an

unlikely figure as community leaders go. The 46-year-old farmer and mother of nine has spent her entire life in San Marcos Tlacoyalco, a dusty town of 10,000 people located in the heart of the Tehuacán Valley southeast of Mexico City.

Rosas has defied social convention by encouraging her neighbors to replace their traditional corn crops in the parched fields around San Marcos with amaranth, a high-protein grain that requires less water to cultivate. Though her pioneering work earned a national award, it was motivated by much more basic values: deepening drought, economic ruin caused by water shortages, and migration north to the United States by many of the valley’s most capable young men, including one of Rosas’ sons. Demand for Mexico’s finite supply of water will rise steadily for the foreseeable future. Demographers predict that the country’s population will surpass 120 million by the year 2025, yet as of 2001 the nation’s Environment Minister reported that 12 million Mexicans had no access to safe drinking water. As in many other nations, Mexico’s existing supplies of water are unevenly distributed. The arid northern third of the country is home to only nine percent of Mexico’s total volume of river water, whereas the southern states that account for about 20 percent of the national territory boast the best aquifers, have fully half of the river water supply and receive most of the rainfall nationwide.

A young girl scoops a murky bucketful from a watering hole in San Marcos Tlacoyalco. Surrounded by barren land, this pool is intended for livestock, but families come to collect water for bathing and laundering as well.


Over the last four decades, the number of large and sophisticated agribusinesses specializing in raising vast numbers of chickens, pigs, cattle and other produce, has increased substantially. These businesses, not surprisingly, have put enormous stress on underground water reserves.


A young boy pauses on a makeshift garbage bridge as he crosses a stream of raw sewage near San Marcos. The townspeople fear that these unregulated discharges will eventually seep into and contaminate their wells, which are a couple of miles away.

Polluted water is a grim fact of life for both city dwellers and rural villagers. In 1996 the government-run National Water Commission reported high concentrations of toxic chemicals in wells used by the industrial city of León for drinking water. An estimated 150,000 residents of Mexico City imbibe water with dangerously high levels of arsenic. The public health hazards associated with contaminated water supplies aren’t confined to any single region of the country: so-called “black waters” have been used to grow vegetables near the southern city of San Cristóbal de las Casas and alfalfa and other forage crops in the central Mexican state of Querétaro. The country’s agribusiness sector is a leading source of water pollution. About 6,000 residents of the Mexican capital consume water containing harmful amounts of pesticide. According to the National Water Commission, wastewater from 61 sugar mills generated 6.2 tons of biochemical oxygen demand in 2000, a reliable yardstick of the amount of fecal and other organic material in water. Pig farms in particular generate massive quantities of excrement that foul rural water supplies. The risks arising from polluted water in the countryside threaten wildlife as well as human beings: over 8,000 migratory birds died near the town of Tequisquiapan after drinking from contaminated ponds and streams.


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northern zambia: A twenty-five-year old woman sits in a chair as she waits to be fed. She is blind in both eyes, a condition caused by trachoma. Trachoma is a bacterial infection of the eyes linked to a lack of clean running water, poor resultant hygiene and inadequate sewerage facilities. It causes an infection of the eyelids and causes blindness if left untreated. It is a major cause of blindness in Africa and Asia.


how to help Christ upon the water in this religious iconography reflects the abiding faith which sustains the people of Tehuacรกn as they struggle to surmount the challenges to their water, their culture and their future.


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