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News 
Hlengiwe Cele  
 
2012/11/16 
 
 Obama’s first term prioritised energy generation more than water

Obama’s intelligence, his social and political skills, and his personal style of leadership have ushered him into a second term as America’s 44th president, but his stance on the critical problems of water facing the world have not been very clear, said Prof Ali Mazrui while addressing a Dialogue organised by the Water Research Commission (WRC), Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and University of Pretoria on Friday, 9 November 2012.

According to Mazrui, Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies and Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities at Binghamton University, oil and water have been adversarial liquids for centuries. It is a common adage that water and oil do not mix. In earlier centuries water played a more energy-intensive role than oil. When fossil oil was discovered in the 17th century, a new era was inaugurated in which water supplies were increasingly at risk from petroleum. By the late 20th century rivers and lakes were increasingly polluted by neighbouring petroleum industries.

“Obama has had policies to govern fossil fuels but has shown no comprehensive strategy specifically about the utilization of water. There had been Congressional legislation to protect clean water for human consumption, but no promotion of water as a source of energy” says Mazrui. As fossil fuel became economically more and more valuable there was less and less protection of water in places like the Niger Delta in Nigeria, or the Gulf of Mexico on the shores of the United States.

Mazrui maintains that the Obama administration has rather shown more commitment to alternative and cleaner forms of energy. American investment has gone into solar, wind, and even nuclear sources of power. “Surprisingly the Obama administration seems to have shown far less interest in imaginative ways of using water as a source of electricity”.  Water policy in the United States is often in the hands of states rather than the Federal Government. California’s water needs have often involved elaborate negotiations with other states like Colorado. But there is a role for the Federal Government in water policy. The Federal Government could be more involved in the politics of water.

The Obama years in power coincided with expanding production of petroleum within the United States, and the discovery of petroleum in more African states. There has also been expanding fracking and production of natural gas in both the United States and Africa. The United States is expected to rival Saudi Arabia in oil production by 2020.

Obama’s policies on water will remain to be seen in his second term as water poses serious challenges globally. The latest statistics indicate that about 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation, roughly 800 million people lack safe drinking water, one billion people go to bed hungry, 3 billion people are undernourished, and 60% of ecosystem services are deteriorating. This has been attributed to poverty, inequality and unequal power relationships, and is exacerbated by social and environmental challenges: accelerating urbanization, climat change and increasing pollution and depletion of water resources.

Click here to view the introduction of the dialogue by the WRC CEO , Dhesigen Naidoo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gBdijwt2gI.

Contact: hlengiwec@wrc.org.za or call 012 330 0340

 

 

 
     
 
Prof Ali Mazrui - Director, Institute of Global Cultural Studies and Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities Binghamton University
 
 
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