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THE RACE TO 2019 HAS BEGUN: SHOULD WE BE HAVING THE WATER CHALENGES WE CURRENTLY FACE?

Last week my submission was titled diamonds, water and electricity waiting for a key holder to unlock for our future prosperity. Yes, indeed we await a key holder who will open the doors; the doors that will lead to all the treasures that God has generously provided for us and safely locked up underground for us to enjoy when the time comes. That key holder will open the doors and will lead his people to deserved prosperity.

God has given us unparalleled wealth in the name of diamonds that are still largely locked safely beneath the earth.  God has also given us water, a life giver that is also safely locked beneath the belly of the earth.  Additionally, He has given us unparalleled amount of coal that is still to be fully exploited to produce not only all the electricity we need, but also much needed petro chemicals that will amongst others deliver petrol and diesel for propelling our economic growth and provide requisite wealth for our people.

Last week I talked about diamonds, although there is still a lot to talk with regards to our diamonds, the idea was to prod and nudge our law makers and the nation at large to start looking deeper into our relations with De Beers in order to seek to establish a new working relationship that is more beneficial to the nation. This week I want to talk about water in order to further raise our consciousness about this strategic resource. Like diamonds water is scarce, all good things are scarce by the way; they must be handled and managed with due care. I will talk about electricity another strategic and scarce resource next week.

Could we have managed our WATER Resources better?

It is a well known fact, that water is life, without water we shall simply perish.  God would never have created our country without providing enough water for our survival and indeed survival of its ecosystem.  Survival is more than just breathing oxygen; it includes social advancement propelled by economic growth that advances national prosperity. This is a fundamental fact that we must embrace in order to prepare a sound long-term national development plan as well as a long-term vision for our nation.

Our country is currently faced with crippling water shortage that could severely impact our survival, economic growth and our entire livelihood. This is currently blamed on our weather patterns especially climate change and the Eli Niño effect.  But the blame should be put directly at our door step because we have failed to effectively manage what God has given us. We now want to conveniently pass the blame to nature and others who have polluted the atmosphere through their industrialisation. While they may be some truth in this, our water management has been antiquated as was mediocritic.

The Minister has now confessed that we have abundant underground water and that they will explore and make that water available for use by the nation. When? God gave our country back to us in 1966, almost fifty years ago; what have we done all these years to ensure water security for the nation?   I know that, as far back as 1966 and before then, we new that our annual rainfall was low and highly unpredictable and that our temperatures were very high leading obviously to very high evaporative water losses. I have experienced this since I was born more than fifty years ago. What have we done to mitigate the effects of this low, unpredictability rainfall and high temperatures (high evaporative losses)?  All we have done is to build many open dams with large surface areas that only promote unprecedented water losses.

Our dams are large evaporation ponds as most of the water is lost through evaporation because of the high temperatures and large surface areas due to dam designs and topography. More than one metre per square metre of water is lost per year through evaporation in Botswana due to these high temperatures, therefore the larger the surface area the more the water we loose.  The large surface area will also result is large amount of water being lost through seepage into the ground as you are exposing more  and more water to dryer land.

Those scientifically minded will appreciate the magnitude of losses I am talking about. Now tell me the wisdom applied here, in a country with low and unpredictable rainfall and high temperatures, to build the dams as we have built throughout the country? In fact, I once told one of our ministers, now retired, then responsible for minerals, energy and water resources that in Botswana we do not build dams, we just build walls to stop the river flow; the water then spread right across the country side; consequently we lose a lot of it through evaporation and ground seepage.  I believe our dam building development plans are devoid of long-term critical and strategic thinking.

This has lead to gross wasteful expenditure in our dam’s development plans.   I would excuse farmers for building their dams in this fashion not our government.
If we wanted to build dams we should have built deep dams with a small surface area, to minimise evaporative losses and ground seepage. Excess water from these dams could have been used to feed our underground water sources as I will show later. This is what I would call imaginative concurrent use of underground and surface water.

Let us use De Beers and diamond mining as a positive example here. When De Beers discovered our diamonds, the first thing they did was to explore and develop underground water resources to support diamond mining. They also built their own power stations and in fact self contained towns, perhaps an indication that the country could not support that development.   If they had relied on government they would have failed to build the diamond industry in the country. What an indictment on our government!!

Anyway, back to water, De Beers developed underground water resources for all their mines. This was a clear indication that we had abundant underground water resources. 

Because of the criticality of water in a water stressed country like Botswana, it was no brainer for De Beers to include in their plant designs used water recycling. In addition rainwater capture and use was also an on going concern and part and parcel of their water management. Why couldn’t our government copy from De Beers or more appropriately Debswana?

With the diamond resources that opened up after our independence through De Beers and the exceedingly large revenues that accrued from these diamonds, we should have invested in concurrent development of our underground and surface water resources; with designs that allowed excess surface water to be used to replenish or top up our underground water reserves?

Fifty years on, we are still building our dams the same way and relying on this water for everything in our very well known unfavorable weather conditions. We still do not recycle our used water when the world over, even in countries with abundant rainwater, do recycle their used water for balancing their ecosystem. We still have not developed a comprehensive rainwater harvesting system. This clearly shows that we have a failed leadership who continue to come up with unsustainable solutions regardless of our prevailing conditions. The recent use of these ‘evaporative ponds’ we call dams, for agriculture in the north will drive our stressed water situation even further into the doldrums. 

Agriculture naturally uses a lot of water; using Dikgatlhong and Motloutse dams for agriculture is ill advised as it will drain those dams so fast; we will have no water for the country very soon especially if this Eli Niño continues.  Our national planners are simply failing to think beyond the now, they are unable or are refusing to read the poignant signs; hence their actions.

However to their credit, the government commissioned an international study to revise its national water master plan, which study was completed in 2005/6 with a report to government that had an array of recommendations to address the current and long-term water security.  What was the use though, after spending multi million Pulas of public funds on a study and then allowing the study to gather dust for ten years before it can be read?  When the Minister, some weeks back said in parliament that there was plenty of water underground he was not dreaming, he was correct, perhaps he had just read the 2005 national water master plan, ten years later? The report highlighted a number of easy wins including the following:

Abundant underground water resources, potable and saline were identified in areas that were clearly stated in the report. These areas were to be explored to quantify the amount of water and then develop extraction plans for using such water for national development.

Mining was to use saline underground water instead of potable water for mineral processing. Potable water was to be reserved for domestic and industrial consumption only.
Use surface water to feed underground aquifers to minimise evaporative and seepage losses.

Recycle all used water (a major source of water that is currently being thrown away to pollute our environment). This is a quick win that government is failing to implement

despite the fact that it is an international standard with mature technology in place.

Design and build rainwater harvesting systems

A water regulator for providing a regulated framework for water development and supply.
If we did these simple things would we still need to invest so much in bringing water all the way from Zambezi; all the way from the northern dams to the south; all the way from the Lesotho highland water scheme??  Are we using our God given resources wisely here? My gut feel says NO, we are wasting our diamond revenues.

Free Food for thought!

The Zambezi water should be used to develop agriculture and food processing in the Chobe area to feed the nation and create a food export industry in that area.  We must find local underground water to supply local needs throughout the country. The surface water can then be used to supplement ground water when that water is available and more importantly to top up our underground sources, rather than allow it to evaporate away.

As an important add on, we must jealously guard and protect our rivers and our environment to avoid pollution and ‘killing’ them. If you go around the country, you will be saddened by the callous dumping of waste in the environment and in our rivers. Rampant unregulated sand mining is also killing our rivers.  Is this not a result of failed or failing government systems? We need to challenge these irregularities as a nation.

Like, I said earlier, I will cover electricity next week. Let me now conclude by saying, we can do better, much better under a different water development arrangement; an arrangement that takes into account our unique and specific circumstances and use that to our advantage;   a management arrangement that will  use the  challenges  we face as hidden opportunities to be explored and exploited for the benefit of our people.

I want to end by quoting once again the following; ‘in times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with the world that no longer exist’.  We need to develop a leadership that is willing to learn new lessons; a leadership that is willing to change; a leadership that is willing to see and adopt a new long term vision for the country, not a leadership that is driven by self interest at the expense of national interest. Let us try to reinvent ourselves, learn anew and move to move our country decisively forward.

Again let us thank our loving God for giving us so much hidden treasure in the form of underground water and diamonds.  Let us also ask Him to forgive us for coming up with unsustainable, not well thought through water development programmes and further ask him to give us new wisdom to envision better and plan better going into the future.

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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