The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

How water gets stolen. (Part 1 of 2)

The issue of refugees and “Boat People” is a political hot potato in Australia.  The recent Australian television series Get Back To Where You Came From took six well-known Australians and placed them face-to-face with some of those boat people now living in Australia.  The six were then shipped (well, airlifted really) to parts of the world from where those refugees had fled.

It is not my intention to enter the debate on Australian refugee policy, but a comment by one of the six got me thinking.

The series producers had taken three of the participants to Kabul in Afghanistan.  The other three they took to Mogadishu in Somalia.  From Mogadishu these three were then transported to Dollo Ado, a group of 5 refugee camps in south-eastern Ethiopia.  Most of the 150,000 refugees in these camps had fled from neighbouring Somalia.

If you didn’t see the series then picture a hot, dry, wind-swept and barren landscape dotted with hundreds of ragged and torn tents.  Living in these tents are adults and children.  One of the most important daily activities is to obtain water.

Returning from an abortive attempt to help a Somali family family fill a container with water one of the Australians remarked something along the lines that “you’d think that the very least these people could have would be access to fresh water.”  Absolutely!  Without water we are dead within days.

So why didn’t they?  Why is there no water?  Is it that the United Nations (UN) has failed in it’s obligations as was charged in the same programme?

Blame?  Responsibility?  Fault?  Guilt?  We could pose and try to answer questions like that, but I think it’s more a case of mis-directed priorities.

Blame or Mis-directed Priorities?

Let’s think about it.  Currently, throughout the world, over one billion people lack access to safe, clean drinking water.  The UN estimates that 20 – 50 litres of water per person per day are required for drinking, cooking and cleaning.  How much water is that?  An average Australian or New Zealander uses that much water every two hours!  This is not written to make us feel guilty, rather, it is written so that we can understand just how little water is required.

So why don’t they?  Why is there no water?

Let’s look at some costs.  To supply water to those 150,000 in Dollo Ado is estimated at around $1 million per year.  About the same as it costs to maintain just one Australian or two New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan for a year.  Priorities!

That’s not the end of the water-military connection though.

The World spends US$1,735 billion per year on military purposes, with the US by far the biggest spender.1  In contrast, the United Nations budget for this year is $5.15 billion.  That’s right, the whole of the UN budget for one year is gobbled up by the World’s militaries in just one day – 365 days of the year!  Priorities!

The Water-Military Connection

Is this a fair connection to make?  Comparing the costs of water access to military spending is an arbitrary comparison isn’t it?  Perhaps not.  Consider these two connections.

There are over 10 million refugees in the world although the number of people displaced are many, many, more – 42 million. The vast majority of these are displaced because of wars and conflicts.  And the suppliers of arms for those wars?  The US, Russia, Germany, France, the UK and China supply over 80%.

Sometimes it is not just ongoing wars that create water problems.  For example, in Laos there are approximately 80 million tonnes of unexploded bombs littering the countryside, a legacy of a war that finished 40 years ago.  Gathering of water in such conditions is extremely hazardous and half the recorded deaths and injuries from these bombs involve children.

Yes, refugees in Dollo Ado deserve fresh water.  Yes, the UN could spend more.  The money required isn’t much but the machine gun, the tank and the missiles steal it from them.

1.  The US spends $711 billion per year on its military – the equivalent of the next 14 biggest spenders combined!

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