The ethics of building dams, or polluting streams, or other conspicuous acts that damage rivers or people or both, are at least easy to point to and argue about. The ethics of not acting, however, the “ethics of omission” are like a hidden cancer, silently festering inside the unsuspecting body. Slowly growing, the cancer erupts suddenly, as happened last week in Kenya when 52 women and children were hacked to death or burned in their homes in a dispute between local herders and local farmers.
The tragedy, according to an editorial in the on-line Kenya newspaper, the Star, can be traced to water supply policy. The Orma pastoralists need water sources for their cattle other than relying on the Tana River, since the cattle will inevitably trample the fields of the Pokomo farmers along the river’s edge. The issue has been around for some time, and is discussed in a 2005 background paper on water and land management in the Tana River basin.
We often hear about corruption, in the sense of bribes, but what about corruption in the sense of not doing what could, and “should” be done? This kind of corruption is a lot murkier; no laws are broken, and sometimes people even get into trouble for trying too hard to do the right thing. I don’t want to accuse or excuse, but just want to suggest that analyzing the ethics underlying water inaction, as well as water actions, can help identify opportunities that are otherwise hidden from view until it’s too late.
The Water Ethics Network (www.waterethics.org) is set up to promote the analysis of water ethics as a way of guiding water management decisions (as well as indecisions!). You can view and subscribe to the monthly e-newsletter, or join the Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-in groups through the Get Involved page.
Rainbows need water too!