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Drought in the Eastern Cape

Understanding rural impoverished circumstances is quite difficult for people who live in suburban or urban areas. A city's veins are its water and effluent systems and its nerves are the communications and power networks. Living within such an organism and being part of it, one is shielded from all sorts of practicalities of life, which is why we live in cities and which is why they are recognised as being the potential tool to support a large number of humans on the planet in an ecologically sustainable manner.

Since the beginning of our Southern Summer, we have faced water restrictions in Grahamstown and all across the Eastern Cape. We have a fairly sizeable vegetable garden, which is partially also interspersed with the ornamental plants. Water restrictions during a drought are often a death sentence for a garden. One is prohibited from watering, using automatic means such a hose-pipe. All watering must take place manually.

Fetching and carrying water is one of the main tasks performed by an isiXhosa woman, living at the Siyakhula Living Lab. These days they have it easy. The water only needs to be fetched from the nearest community borehole, which may be 500m away. Formerly water may have had to be hauled much farther distances, especially in times of drought. Based on durable plastics, there are several inventions that aim to ease this task (e.g. the water barrel that is also a tyre, and can be pushed). These inventions are struggling to find their way into rural life though and at Nkwalini, one can see women carrying water in the traditional manner - on their heads.

Hauling bucket after bucket of water, just to keep the vegetables alive, I had plenty of time to ponder the rural fate, which involves many such chores, that we take for granted, and to ponder the activities with which we fill the saved time -- productive work, and for some of us, TV / games / etc.). I really enjoyed that reflexive aspect of the drought. I also marvelled at how well the veggies grew, which receive the daily bath water. These recipients of daily water grew magnificently and thrived. The hand watered plants just survived. This highlighted to me the need for drip irrigation schemes such as the ones piloted by SELF in Benin.

South Africa is very vulnerable to food scarcity, because its rural population is not farming veggies, hardly at all. David Martin calls it a joke compared to what he is seeing in South Asia. We need to wake up and use our resources better. Financial and natural resources can be used in win-win ways to boost productivity. For instance linking grants to food growing schemes. If paying out the grants (delivering money) is costing so much, why not deliver what the people are buying with that money from home-grow schemes - boosting employment in rural areas? The spare money should be invested in infrastructure further boosting employment in the rural areas as well as opening new possibilities for economic activity. South Africa is a rich country -- with the potential of being a model African country. That is something I'd like to see.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 25th 2010 05:55

Nicholas Carr - Google making us stupid

I finally had time to read this article in the Atlantic Monthly, read it here. It's definitely thought-provoking. However, for the husband of a neuro-etologist, it is not convincing at all.

In fact, the first thought that went through my mind was that Carr was suffering from stress related psychological illness that has simply impaired his ability to focus. That has as much to do with modern life as Google. Or invoking Henry Ford, substitute conveyor belt with Google, and factory worker's station with armchair (or desk) -> inhuman conditions from which one needs to take a break. Get out of your armchair Carr!

The worst thing about Carr's argument is that he begins by being quite precise with his qualification of "I and some others" ... but by the end of the article he speaks of "us/we" as though he spoke for all humanity. What he fails to see is the basic illiteracy of many of "us". Illiteracy is endemic at the bottom of the pyramid, that means some 4 billion people are just barely literate and have never read anything longer than this blog post. They stand to benefit tremendously from Google's service.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 26th 2009 10:11

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