" We never know the worth of water till the well is dry." -- Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia #5451 (1732)
While it is the single most important substance on earth, we usually don’t think about water other than when we’re thirsty. Most homes have at least two indoor faucets. Almost every public building has water fountains conveniently placed for easy, instant refreshment. Water is simple; it’s always there. Yet despite all this convenience, simplicity, and lack of excitement, water is the most essential part of life. Water is part of every step of the life cycle, every food chain and every organism. Perhaps the effort associated with getting a drink of water is too little to bring to our realization the magnitude of water’s significance. After enough contemplation, it begins to seem too good to be true. Perhaps it is.
In Ethiopia, famine due to drought claimed 1 million lives in 1984 (Thurow A8). While Ethiopia has the right temperatures for good agriculture, it lacks consistent rainfall, and crops can only be grown through the wettest season. All of this adds up to a lot of starving, thirsty people (A1).
When I say “Nile”, you think “Egypt”. When I say “Ethiopia”, you think “famine.” The Nile River, which brings life into the hot dessert of Egypt, starts in Ethiopia. In fact, 85% of the water in the Nile River comes from tributaries in Ethiopia (Thurow A1). Ethiopia has a wealth of water running through it; why not use that water to grow food for one of the most impoverished parts of the world?
Politics. For years, Egypt has strongly resisted any notion of anyone using their precious Nile anywhere but inside Egypt’s own borders, solely for the benefit of Egypt. Their political power has always insured them exclusive rights to the Nile. In the meantime, Ethiopia has been denied use of its very own river (Thurow A1). Thanks to irrigation systems that have been in place since ancient times, Egyptian farmers grow rich crops in the middle of the dessert while Ethiopians starve to death.
But perhaps this could all change. The World Bank, the United States, and other countries traditionally donating food to Ethiopia now realize that Ethiopia should begin sustaining itself. With a half a billion dollars coming from the US alone each year, only because food aid has become outrageously expensive is Ethiopia being granted the permission to use its own natural resources to sustain itself (Thurow A1). The attempt to substitute foreign aid for self-reliance is reminiscent of the old proverb about teaching a man to fish.
Sadly, there is yet another complication to the crisis in Northern Africa. The Nile carries more than water. The water running through Ethiopia in the Nile carries nutrients and rich soil with it. The mixture that makes its way into...