A World of Water

News Feature

News & Events

July 2, 2012

For the better part of a decade, [b]Dr. Diana Fox[/b] has been examining issues related to water in faraway places like Trinidad and Jamaica. The professor of anthropology and three-time Fulbright scholar, has looked at water from a variety of angles; including the effect gender and culture have on patterns of usage and problems associated with government policies and infrastructure.

Dr. Fox recently returned from Jamaica where she continued this research. She now believes more than ever that the earth's water supply, including that which seems to flow endlessly from local taps, is a topic citizens and governments around the world must address.

We asked Dr. Fox about her work.

[b]Q: What's the take away from your trip to Jamaica?[/b]
A: I realized that the water crisis in the Caribbean is part of a global water crisis. Water is the new oil,' as many are saying. These tropical islands are rich in water, but it's poorly managed, and the water utilities are increasingly privatized, up to 70 percent in some areas. This is compounded by problems that are stressing the actual water table, such as a growing population and environmental degradation through deforestation as well as pollution. Things like these are exacerbating the problem.

[b]Q: What were the main findings?[/b]
A: Everywhere we went we saw that Jamaica has water troublesin varying degrees, and in some places it is at crisis level. We went to Negril, one of the tourist areas, and even there they have limited water. Occasionally people turn on the tap and water sometimes comes out, sometimes it doesn't. We also visited the village of Auldier on the southwest coast and they've had no running water there for three years. They have to walk a mile and a half each way to the river. Sometimes the children get up at 3 a.m. before school to get water. You see women making that walk with ten-gallon jugs on their head. Some of these women and girls are afraid to make that walk at night; sexual assault is a documented problem. It's a crisis, and there are community organizations, committees and parish councils who try to contact the government and Water Commission, and they get little or delayed response. Access to water is a human right; it's the responsibility of the government, and that responsibility is being shirked.

[b]Q: What kind of research did you do this time?[/b]
A: We interviewed children about their roles regarding water collection as well as older people about how things have changed. We went to schools to understand what they need to do to get water. Also, we examined the ways in which the villages get by. The communities are functioning, but to do so require huge efforts and expenditures of time and energy that could be devoted to other things. What's exciting is that they are forming grassroots organizations to try and address the problem. They haven't changed the problem yet, but they're not just lying down and giving up.

[b]Q: Tell us about the documentaries you hope to make.[/b]
A: Working with the University of West Indies and the Caribbean Water Network as well as Sarafinaproductions in L.A., we've applied to the National Endowment for the Humanities for a grant. The first would focus on the Fondes Amandes community in Trinidad. The members of the village have cleaned up the nearby river and founded the Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation Project, which continues this work. After that, we'd like to create a documentary about Jamaica, and then look at some of the other islands, like Dominica, Barbados, or both. The series will give people a real sense of what's happening in that part of the world with respect to water issues and environmental sustainability.

[b]Q: Jamaica and Trinidad are pretty far away. Should we be worried about these problems hitting closer to home?[/b]
A: Yes, the U.S. isn't immune. The Southwest already has problems, the Colorado River, by the time it reaches Mexico, Is just a trickle. We also have water pollution, and the seepage of chemicals into the water supply. It's a significant issue that connects all of us. (Interview by John Winters, G '11, University Advancement)

A Jamaican woman demonstrates how she hauls water from a distant river
Dr. Fox conducts an interview in Trinidad
Dr. Fox with a group of women in a Rastafarian community in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica