22 April 2006

flood and flood

I've been following salon's series on global warming and the effect of rising waters on the world--the current effects that we can observe and the future effects as well. entire countries disappearing under the water in the pacific, for example. I highly recommend these pieces; they give you an insight into various water-proximate cultures and the different ways they're dealing with a problem largely forced on them by those kicking up almost a quarter of the world's greenhouse gasses (that'd be the US, for those just joining us).

I find a word problematic though, and suggest that we need something new in order to describe the problem facing these communities. By calling this problem a 'flood' it makes it feel like a quick, one-time, singular natural disaster (and yes, floods are rarely wholly 'natural' disasters). it invites comparisons between the levees breaking in NO and a severe snowmelt one year in the Rockies that tragically kills some kayakers down-river. the former is the result of long-term bureaucratic neglect and corruption; the latter may have something to do with global warming or it might just be a heavy snowmelt year. it suggests to readers that if faced with a climate-change, decades-long level 'flood' that slowly and inexorably changed the salinity of the water in your supply, moved the ecosystem around, and shifted your problems from one set to another entirely different set, one should, as in the horror movies, just 'get out'.

and so I suggest you read the article linked above on Bangladesh's southwestern region because it outlines the huge problems facing this region on all levels, from climate to culture, and the difficulties of trying to suggest easy, quick, simple solutions (and let's face it: getting out is a two-word, easily stated solution which carries an ease-factor inversely proportionate to the ease of said two-word statement) in a region that can easily see and identify the immediate problems but like all of us has some difficulty figuring out what to do about it.

adaptability seems to me to be the keyword of the article, and one that defies the quick-fix approach that a singular natural disaster word like 'flood' asks for in return. investigating new ways of relating to the water now that the old ways are no longer possible. trying things in new places that worked elsewhere, where they were faced with similar problems. working within the language (Bengali as well as the agricultural language of regional farming) that those living in SW Bangladesh know well rather than bringing in 'Western Science' and 'Developed Nation Englightenment' into smart, hardworking, subtle-thinking people's homes.

Bangladesh has already seen arsenic-induced deaths due to the overdeployment by western aid organizations of tube wells to provide 'clean water' to 'backwards' rural villages. a huge education campaign was put in place with the best intentions to get folks to stop drinking the stale, cholera-causing water in algae-covered ponds in exchange for trusting the tubewell. now a different education project has to be put in place.

in most cases, I know, we fail to learn from earlier historical missteps. but I ask meekly: instead of using technology to fix things why not adapt what folks already do (see: Green Revolution, failures of)? why not work with them instead of calling them stupid for not 'getting out' while they can (see some of the letters in response to the article)? and let's not forget: utter lack of access to education does not mean stupid. it means poor. and educated, let's face it, does not necessarily mean smart.

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