Your editor is from Dublin, Ireland, a city of approximately one million people. The city of Harare in Zimbabwe is more than four times that size and in recent weeks slightly under half that population have had no water in their taps. (See our lead story below). What would it be like if a city twice the size of my own had no water? For all those people in Harare this question does not need to be asked. They know.
Other questions arise. How long does a city go without running water before the city itself begins to collapse? We all know that water is basic, but that does not mean that we really know in our bones how basic it is. What happens if a city of four million people can no longer provide the basics such as water?
One European political leader, Victor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary, may shed some light on the matter. He is concerned about Africa, though not too concerned about drought:
Forces are appearing, the like of which the world has not seen for a long time. In Africa there will be ten times as many young people as in Europe. If Europe does nothing they will kick down the door on us.
He falls short in his assessment of the present moment. Forces are appearing, the like of which the world has never seen. As for Europe having its door kicked down, the imagery is somewhat stretched. The meandering Mediterranean coastline of our continent can hardly be described as a door. On the other hand, the luridness of Mr Orban’s imagery is not to be lightly dismissed. If Europe does nothing, it is increasingly likely that the picture he paints of our future will come to pass.
Humanity has seen many famines through the ages, but the sight of people dying in fearful numbers for want of water will be something entirely new. Many will certainly die if nothing is done but what will the survivors do?
Imagine for a moment that the tables are turned. Imagine that Europe is parched and that Africa has plenty of drinking water. Imagine, also, that Africa does nothing. What would we Europeans do? How would we view Africans as we look towards their continent. We would carry with us a desperate determination to triumph over the horrors we have seen – both for the sake of those who have died and for those yet to be born.
These scenarios are extreme and only one of them is realistically possible – the one where Europe does nothing while drought continues to increases its grip on Africa. On the other hand Europe could decide to do something.