Africa in crisis.. hundreds of millions lack access to water, suffer from “sick water,” and food shortages

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Africa, especially West and Central Africa, is in crisis. According to a recent UNICEF report, more than 155 million, roughly 40 percent of the population in West and Central Africa, lack access to potable water. This region of Africa is the worst affected in the world. Worldwide, 18 percent lack access to drinking water. In addition, 291 million people in West and Central Africa lack access to sanitation. This region has the highest under-five mortality rate of all “developing regions” at 169 deaths per 1,000. The First World does not lack for water, sanitation or food. It is rare for even the poorest in the United States to lack the basics required for survival. However, lack of access to the basics is a problem that affects billions in the Third World.

According to another recent U.N. report, more people die from polluted water every year than from all forms of violence, including war. An estimated 2 billion tons of water waste, including fertilizer run-off, sewage, and industrial waste, is being discharged every day. This causes the spread of disease and destroys eco-systems. “Sick water” is tied to 3.7 percent of all deaths globally. More than half of the world’s hospital beds are filled by people suffering from water-related illness. Once again, nearly all the victims of this problem are peoples of the Third World. Even though First World peoples are the main beneficiaries of the Third World production that causes “sick water,” they rarely suffer any of the negative effects. Third World people suffer in order to sustain the First World, consumer lifestyle.

“Sick water” is also tied to the spread of dead zones in the oceans. Dead zones are oxygen-deprived regions where oceanic life dies. Not only does the First World standard of living condemn billions in the Third World to living wretched existences, First World consumption threatens the global eco-system. If oceans die, so too will all life on Earth.

Nine drought-affected African countries are meeting to try to find ways of managing scarce water resources and reducing food shortages. Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal have had falling food production connected to water problems. Food supplies are critically low in Niger and Chad, leaving millions of people vulnerable.  Achim Steiner, the U.N. Undersecretary General and executive director of UNEP:

“If the world is to thrive, let alone to survive on a planet of 6 billion people heading to over 9 billion by 2050, we need to get collectively smarter and more intelligent about how we manage waste, including wastewaters.”

Steiner is correct that survival requires a more rational management of the global economy. The problem is that capitalism is incapable of rising to the challenge. Capitalism is a system that places profit above human needs. These problems are a result of what Karl Marx identified as the anarchy of production under capitalism. Capitalism produces for the market, it does not produce to meet the needs of the vast majority. Gross global inequalities and systematic violence that affects billions are  part of how capitalism functions. Capitalism is only able to reproduce itself because billions in the Third World suffer. Capitalism does not function despite this mass suffering in the Third World, it functions because of it. By contrast, socialism places people above profits. Under socialism, the global distribution will be one that is more rational and egalitarian. The First World itself will be abolished under global socialism. Under socialism, the few will not benefit at the expense of the many.