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Whiteford and Whiteford, Globalization, Water and Health: Resource Management in Times of Scarcity, 2005.

Johann W. N. Tempelhoff reviews the book for H-SAfrica, April 2006.
January 1, 2006

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Linda Whiteford and Scott Whiteford, eds. Globalization, Water and Health: Resource Management in Times of Scarcity. School of American Research Advanced Seminar Series. Sante Fe: School of American Research Press, 2005. x + 322 pp. Illustrations, maps, tables, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-930618-58-9.

Reviewed by: Johann W. N. Tempelhoff, School of Basic Sciences, North-West University, South Africa.
Published by: H-SAfrica (April, 2006)

The Ways of Water

At the start of the twenty-first century, water is rapidly becoming one of the most crucial of natural resources in global society. Not only is it essential for sustaining human life. It is increasingly becoming a key component in some scientific quarters to find alternative sources of energy in an energy-hungry world.

Yet, we know fairly little about water. For example, the principles of hydrology were only discovered in the seventeenth century. It was only in the nineteenth century that societies in the western hemisphere became aware of the importance of sanitation and the implications of waterborne disease. Once these scientific breakthroughs became common knowledge, it shaped our perspective of the world and promoted longevity by promoting simple principles of long life.

What is even more startling is the fact that, although natural scientists have given extensive attention to water over the past two centuries, social and economic scientists, as well as humanities practitioners, have only really started taking note of water in the past half century. The reason for their lethargy was perhaps the result of the ubiquitous nature of water. "Why study water in the human realm? There is a lot of it going around and we just need to know how to use it effectively," are the usual responses of persons beyond the realms of academia.

Fortunately this state of affairs has changed significantly as a result of concerted efforts by international organizations and national governments. In particular, the World Water Council, established in 1996, and responsible for the four World Water Forums since 1997, has been instrumental in securing a priority for water in matters of governance and development.

We are now more than aware that water is an important factor in any equation aimed at the eradication of poverty and addressing issues of food security. These issues, and many more dealing with human health, human rights and globalization, have had a marked influence on the way we currently think about the future role of the "soft sciences" in shaping strategies to secure a comprehensible and sustainable future for future generations.

Globalization, Water and Health: Resource Management in Times of Scarcity is a work of sound scholarship, aimed at making students aware of current "issues" in the water environment. It also addresses issues of health, management and globalization. In short, it is a transboundary work, aimed at addressing an audience exploring water as natural resource from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds.

Linda Whiteford and Scott Whiteford deserve praise for assembling a group of scholars to contemplate, in concert, a number of water issues in a variety of spatial and problem contexts. Their partners in the project range from fellow-anthropologists to political ecologists, health specialists, philosophers and theologians.

The readers, presumably a senior undergraduate or postgraduate college audience, are informed on a number of themes prevalent in the realm of current water research. Terms such as "commodification," "project culture," "water demand management," the "era of large dam construction," and "watershed management" are dealt with comprehensively and in an understandable manner. There are constant references to suitable examples in real life, for the reader to get to understand the message conveyed in abstract concepts.

This work is noted for a number of creative ideas articulated by the authors. Irene Klaver and John Donahue, for example, promote the idea of "public ownership" to promote a sense of co-responsibility for water in an era when conceptions of the "commons" and "the common good" are out of sync with trends in a world that is rapidly being thrust forward by narrow marketplace objectives. Arguing from a moral perspective, Linda Whiteford explains how "structural violence" becomes a factor when certain groups are marginalized to the extent that essential services are beyond their reach (p. 130), and this can harm the health conditions in any given society. The reader becomes aware of the implications of current global perspectives in respect to health. This, in turn, has a direct impact on water supply, management and sanitation (pp. 43-44).

A valuable feature of the work is that it is not confined exclusively to conditions in either the developed or the developing world. Instead there is a nice balance between conditions in developing countries in East Asia, Africa and South America, on the one hand, and issues in the developed West, on the other.

William Derman's chapter on water policy and reform in Southern Africa is a heroic attempt at addressing issues in an arid to semi-arid region. Some of the perspectives on all countries of the region are perhaps not always up to date, given the fact that in recent years substantial research and production has emanated, especially from South Africa, in the field of hydropolitics under Antony Turton and his associates at the University of Pretoria. With the active support of Tony Allen of the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, social scientists have significantly influenced the water management landscape in the region.[1] Derman's work is, however, important in that it tends to shift the accent to South Africa's neighbor Zimbabwe, which, at one stage in the not too distant past, was among the leading African countries in the field of water research. As a result of the prevalent socio-political environment in that country, the water research landscape has sadly deteriorated in a most deplorable manner.

The collaboration between Lenore Manderson and Yixin Huang provides a fascinating case study of water in rural China. In the discourse, the issue of gender dovetails well with issues of water-based disease conditions. Beijing will host the Olympic Games in 2008. Already the Chinese authorities have admitted that they are facing serious water problems. They have also indicated that the matter would receive their attention in the months to come. This chapter sheds some light on life in rural China and also touches on the sensitive issue of the controversial, but impressive, Three Gorges Dam.

On the whole Globalization, Water and Health is a useful sourcebook to orientate students in the field of water studies. The insights of the authors testify to years of experience in the research field. In comparison with some monographic studies on water, this book has one major advantage. The different authors, although they repeat certain issues, constantly shed fresh light by contemplating things from different angles. This, in turn, provokes the reader into drawing comparisons with existing knowledge of local reference frameworks.


[1]. Anthony Turton and Roland Henwood, eds., Hydropolitics in the Developing World: A Southern African Perspective (Pretoria: African Water Issues Research Unit, Centre for International Political Studies (CIPS), University of Pretoria, 2002); Anthony Turton et al., Policy Options in Water-Stressed States: Emerging Lessons from the Middle East and Southern Africa (Pretoria and London: African Water Issues Research Unit, Centre for International Political Studies, and Overseas Development Institute, Water Policy Programme, 2003); and Anthony Turton, Peter Ashton and Eugene Cloete, eds., Transboundary Rivers, Sovereignty and Development: Hydropolitical Drivers in the Okavango River Basin (Pretoria and Geneva: African Water Issues Research Unit, and Green Cross International, 2003).

tation: Johann W. N. Tempelhoff. "Review of Linda Whiteford and Scott Whiteford, eds, Globalization, Water and Health: Resource Management in Times of Scarcity," H-SAfrica, H-Net Reviews, April, 2006. URL:

Republished with permission from H-Net Reviews.

Other articles and documents on China-Africa relations:

China-Africa Trade Cooperation | The Dragon's Gift-China in Africa | China’s Foreign Aid Activities in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia | China in Africa: Implications for U.S. Policy | China's Foreign Policy and 'Soft Power' in South America, Asia, and Africa | China-Africa Relations and the Global Village | Globalization, Water and Health: Resource Management in Times of Scarcity | Annenberg Dean Speaks on China-Africa Relations | Joint Communiqué Between China and South Africa | Consolidating China-Africa Traditional Friendship | The African American Encounter with Japan and China: Black Internationalism in Asia |