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ethiopia in troubled waters

I am excited to see that the US has sent troops to help in the Ethiopian flood crisis. At times like this, it helps to remember that there is some notion of human compassion in our military despite our current crises…

As an engineering student interested in water resources and environmental stewardship, it is difficult to stomach such disasters as the current flood crisis in Ethiopia. While no country can expect to avoid such disasters altogether, we in wealthy, industrialized countries often forget how fortunate we are to live in countries where the power of water is harnessed. Unfortunately, for poorer countries such as Ethiopia and many others with water whose power has not been tamed, such a necessity for life can often claim the lives of those who may at times also despair for it.

As I have been doing some reading recently about water resources problems, especially in the developing world, I think there are some explanation for these issues. Among a myriad of explanations are found a global lack of technical knowledge necessary to address these problems and an unwillingness to promulgate sustainable water resources and sanitation infrastructure solutions.

I believe these catastrophes demonstrate to us that we as a global community still do not possess the knowledge required to address these concerns. We do not have the expertise to address the sophisticated hydrological and water resources problems that plague much of the planet; the recurring stories of flooding and drought consistently testify to this. While some of these problems may be chalked up to the whims of nature, many of these problems owe to the fact that countries who have the resources to attempt to tackle these problems cannot familiarize themselves with the intricacies of such formidable challenges as are present in areas of the world with highly variable hydrology.

Some of the magnitude of these problems can be linked to the lack of sustainable solutions for water resources and sanitation infrastructure. Some reasons cited for this include widespread corruption and lack of adequate management institutions, investor and community risk aversion, and the substantial investment of time and money required. I think none of these excuses are acceptable, and personally think there is no explanation that can preclude our responsibility to require the development of these resources in places where they are lacking. As far as the prohibitive monetary and temporal costs involved, we cannot afford, as a global community, to be deterred by such daunting challenges. Truly, water infrastructure is a prerequisite to the social and economic development of any culture, yet we in the aid-providing community consistently advocate short-term, small-scale solutions to problems that require full-scale, long-term sustainable approaches to these problems. Corruption and community and investor risk aversion are social issues which have immesurable influence on the difficulty involved in solving water problems, however I am not convinced that these are acceptable reasons to quell our pursuit of the advancement of water infrastructure development.

Published in developing countries development environment infrastructure natural disasters natural hazards