Tonight I made a trip to the grocery store to pick up cat food, and made a loop through the produce section to pick up some fruit. I bought a variety of goodies and was looking forward to savoring them over the next few days.
On the way home, I was listening to NPR radio since I had taken my iPod into the house this last weekend. Typically whenever I start my car, my iPod serenades me with all my favorite music, but for the past few days it has been NPR.
About half way home, All Things Considered came on with a report by Julie McCarthy titled, River’s Bounty Bypasses Families, Feeds Businesses.
The report centers on an area in northeastern Brazil along the Sao Francisco River where produce is grown, not for the people in the area, but for consumers in the US and Europe. According to the report (my emphasis):
…the bounty of this great waterway passes by thousands of poor families. In the area around the city of Petrolina in the distressed state of Pernambuco, 90 percent of the water from the river goes to large-scale agriculture, according to officials from the federal agricultural research agency. And the agriculture is not for for local consumption but for export.
Water is our most basic physical need, and the poor living and working in this area are being denied that basic need all in the name of providing us with cheap produce. McCarthy goes on to report:
Lush fields of irrigated grapes, mangoes, and melons destined for the United States and Europe shimmer like a mirage across the highway from where Jose de Sousa, 30, lives with his wife and seven children. But in his bleak settlement of cinder-block homes ironically called “Living Waters,” there is only an intermittent supply of running water. De Sousa’s eldest child, 12-year-old Gessia, died in February when she fell from a leaking irrigation canal while trying to collect water. A makeshift altar marks the spot where she fell. De Sousa says his children routinely climb the 30-foot-high concrete canal to get water for their families. His daughter died making her third trip of the day.
While the poor in these areas are working in the fields to bring us fresh produce, their children are having to risk their lives to secure the most basic need for their families – water. When McCarthy asked a vineyard owner, Joao Santos, if he felt there was something wrong with the way the water was apportioned, he replied:
“I’ve got so many problems within my own company. I have a hard enough time getting the government’s attention for myself,” Santos says. “My responsibility lies with the 30 people on my payroll. They are guaranteed a meal, housing if they want it, medical care and education for their children. They are treated with dignity.”
Stories like this sadden me and are glaring examples of just how screwed up this world is. Somehow I don’t think the fruits I bought tonight (which according to the labels were grown outside the US) will be as sweet as I had anticipated. Related link:
NPR Morning Edition, August 29, 2007: Brazil River Dispute Highlights Larger Issue