Monday, 14 October 2013

Tanzania: letter to the Editor

There are "too many of us.  The shortage of water is really the surplus of people." reads the letter in the newspaper delivered to my seat in a plane returning from Tanzania. 

Community members in Bahi, Tanzania, a small village close to the city of Dodoma (150 km NW of Dar Es Salaam) had called upon an international community of doctors, researchers and human rights workers for help.  The Tanzanian government was being lobbied by a uranium mining company from Australia.  The people believed that their lands and livelihoods were being bargained away.  

Bahi is semi-arid. The dry black earth is deeply cracked.  Our vehicles lurched over barely visible trails that would be gone when the rains came and the dike-bordered squares were transformed into rice paddies.

There is no uranium mine here yet. However, after the prospectors left, local farmers developed skin problems – especially on the skin of hands, lower legs and feet. Their plight simultaneously reached the ears of a German activist, a Swiss president of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and a human rights organization.

The visiting team was organized in hopes of providing diagnoses, education about the health effects of uranium mining and provide support in their efforts to keep their small farm-holdings.

In Tanzania, the press of population is crushingly present – from cheek-sunken beggars by the roadside to car-choked traffic jams in Dar, from the scores of  unemployed to the grinding poverty of hundreds of thousands. Yes, this population demands a lot of water.

But the proposed uranium mine in Bahi would require 35 million litres of water per day! The used water would be poisoned with arsenic, acids, alkalis and heavy metals. It would be lost to human consumption. 

People are not consuming this water for their needs; it feeds an energy hungry industry based upon peoples' greeds.

So now I'm home and unpacking pent-up emotional baggage:  Sorrow for the 50,000 Africans who left Zanzibar per year as slaves, gutting the cultural heart of the continent.  Anger that they've, in turn, been left with a network of despotic corrupt leaders.  Anger at continued colonialism through bribery, extortion and collusion in the extractive industry.  Anger that the extractive industry's long arm can reach through the country's mosaic to harass opposition*.  Fury that Canada has the most lax international oversight in the world and shows callous disregard for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Africa, South and Central America and Australia.

Gratitude for the people I've met - many talented young and not so young African activists, for the group of medical students determined to make a difference in the arms trades working on One Bullet Stories, for the many who love their families, communities and countries - and are willing to risk imprisonment of worse to stand up for peace, justice and a sustainable world.

Preserving land and water to use for our needs and for those of future generations is a sacred trust.

*As we stood outside the police station in the tropical darkness, the police in Bahi questioned one of the organizers of the road trip.  The next morning the police stopped a bus coming to the conference in Dodoma and told them not to proceed.  That night an activist from the Congo was held at customs until someone came to sign a voucher for him.